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Египетская мифология
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andy4675
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СообщениеДобавлено: Ср Фев 02, 2022 12:59 am    Заголовок сообщения: Египетская мифология Ответить с цитатой

- D. Meeks - C. Favard Meeks, "Η καθημερινή ζωή των Αιγυπτιακών θεών", изд. Δημ. Ν. Παπαδήμας, Афины, 1995 год.

- George Hart, "Μύθοι των Αιγυπτίων", изд. Δημ. Ν. Παπαδήμα, Афины, 1996 год.

- "Мифы: Египет. Греция. Китай: Энциклопедический справочник", изд. Харвест, М.: АСТ, 2000, Минск:

Мифология Древнего Египта, статьи в алфавитном порядке, стр. 5 - 97

- "Мифы народов мира", составители В. И. Коровин, В. Я. Коровина, Е. С. Абелюк, изд. Росткнига, Москва, 3-е изд. испр. и доп., 1999 год:

Легенда о сотворении мира 25 - 30
Небо и звёзды 30 - 31
Возвращение богини Тефнут 31 - 40
Как бог Ра наказал людей 40 - 45
Ра и Змей (тайна истинного имени Ра) 45 - 47
Борьба Ра с Апопом 48 - 54
Рождение Осириса 54 - 59
Царствование Осириса 59 - 66
Странствования Исиды 66 - 71
Похороны Осириса 71 - 75
Детство и юность Гора 75 - 80
Спор Гора и Сета 80 - 88

- Γεώργιος Σιεττός, "Παγκόσμιες αντιλήψεις για τη Θεογονία και Κοσμογονία", изд. Κυβέλη, Афины, 1997 год:

Египетская космогония. Мифы о сотворении 108 - 112

- Σάμουελ Χένρι Χουκ, "Μυθολογία της Μέσης Ανατολής", изд. Αρίων, Афины, дата издания на книге не указана:

Египетская мифология 65 - 67
Мифы об Осирисе 67 - 70
Мифы о солнечном боге Ра 70 - 71
Мифы о сотворении мира 72 - 74
Старость Ра 74 - 75
Убийство Апопа 75 - 76
Тот, представитель Ра 76 - 77
Мифы о Ниле 77 - 78

- Joseph Campbell, серия "The masks of God", том "Oriental mythology", изд. Arkana, Penguin group, 1991:

Египетская мифология 49 - 102
Египет и Месопотамия 103 - 112 и 137 - 146

- "Женщины в легендах и мифах", под ред. Кэролайн Ларрингтон, изд. Крон-пресс, Москва, 1998 год:

Автор главы М. В. Сетон-Уильямс

Египет: миф и реальность. Раздел 1. Мифы. Мифы о сотворении мира. Теология Мемфиса 39 - 45
Раздел 2. Богини. 45 - 53
Раздел 3. Богини родов. Богини загробного мира 54 - 56
Раздел 4. Древнеегипетские истории 56 - 58
Раздел 5. Реальность: история 58 - 71

- Мирча Элиаде, "Священные тексты народов мира", изд. Крон-пресс, Москва, 1998 год:

Египетский верховный бог в эпоху Текстов Саркофагов стр. 31 (текст номер 17)
Атон, двуполый верховный бог 32 (1Cool
Спор между Осирисом и верховным богом 32 - 33 (19)
Аменхотеп IV (Эхнатон) и Гимн Атону 33 - 37 (20)
Египетская космогония и теогония 97 - 98 (54)
Душа человека отождествляется с Осирисом и с природой 189 - 190 (8Cool
Оживление Осириса 226 (103)
Заклинание, оживляющее Осириса 226 - 227 (104)
Отрицание грехов при Психостасии 235 - 237 (110)
Посвящение в таинства Исиды в Римский период 298 - 303 (155)
Умерший фараон восходит на небо 344 - 345 (166)
Умерший фараон становится Осирисом 346 (167)
Осирис - прототип каждой души, надеющейся победить смерть 346 - 347 (168)
Жизнь после смерти в качестве Ба и жизнь в гробнице дополняют друг друга 347 (169)
Египетская страна молчания и тьмы 348 (170)
Египетский пессимизм: спор о самоубийстве 511 - 514 (260)
Египетская песнь арфиста: "Из ушедших туда не воротился никто" 514 - 516 (261)
Разочарование и отчаяние: наставления египтянина Ипу 516 (262)
Египетское учение о смирении, мудрости, терпимости. Египетский религиозный мыслитель: поучения Мерикара 531 - 532 (272)
Египетское учение о смирении, мудрости, терпимости. Поучения Аменемопе 532 - 536 (273)

- Amy Cruse, "The Book of Myths", изд. Gramercy Books, New York, 1993 год:

Мифы египтян 192 - 193
Осирис и Исида 193 - 200
Принцесса и демон 200 - 205
Легенда об истоках Нила 205 - 207
Се-Осирис и запечатанное письмо 207 - 214

- L. Bernard, "Παγκόσμια Μυθολογία", изд. Μέρμηγκα:

Египетская мифология 61 - 97

- Philip Wilkinson and Neil Philip, "Παγκόσμια Μυθολογία", Σκάι βιβλίο 2009:

Боги Египта 224
Сотворение мира. Начало познания своего бытия. Элементы творения. Сотворение мира. Око Ра. Земля и Небо. Эннеада (Гелиопольская Девятка) 226 - 227
Вечерняя лодка Ра. Формы Солнца. Проглачивание Солнца. Ра и Тутанхамон. Змея Хаоса. Тайное имя Ра. Укус Змеи. Исида выкладывает имя Ра 228 - 229
Ссоры между братьями. Первый царь. Первая мумия. Мистерии Осириса. Восемьдесят лет тяжб. Судилище богов. Корабли из камня 232 - 233
Египетские верования о жизни после смерти. Сохранение умершего. Две Правды. Последний суд 234 - 235
Творцы и высшие боги. Ра. Культ 283
Творцы и высшие боги. Атон. Культ 284
Творцы и высшие боги. Апис 284
Богини-матери и божества Земли. Геб 291
Боги Моря, Неба и Вселенной. Гор. Культ 298
Боги Моря, Неба и Вселенной. Тот 299
Боги Моря, Неба и Вселенной. Нут 299
Божества животных и охоты. Птица Бену 304
Божества животных и охоты. Собек 304
Божества животных и охоты. Бастет 304
Божества любви, рождения и домашнего очага. Хатхор 317
Божества любви, рождения и домашнего очага. Бес 317
Божества любви, рождения и домашнего очага. Исида. Культ 317
Боги-трикстеры. Сет 329
Боги войны. Сехмет 337
Боги Нижнего мира. Осирис 343
Боги Нижнего мира. Анубис 343
Боги Нижнего мира. Ма'ат 343

- "DK Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology. Heroes, heroines, gods, and goddesses from around the world", Philip Wilkinson, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1998:

Древний Египет. Разнообразие богов. Бог Солнца. Мифы и ритуал 29
Египетское Сотворение мира. Геб и Нут. Шу. Ра-Атум. Тефнут. Камень Бенбен. Птах. Нефертум. Нейт. Хнум. Сехмет. Птица Бену 30 - 31
Подземный мир древних египтян. Осирис. Исида и Гор. Нефтида. Анубис. Сокар. Тот. Апеп. Сет и Гор. Маат. Аммут. Сешат. Уэтуауэт 33 - 33
Боги плодородия и животных. Рененет. Мешкенет. Бес. Хапи. Хатхор. Тауерет. Хонсу. Мин. Собек. Бастет. Апис. Мут. Серкет. Сфинкс 34 - 35

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Felix Guirand, "Παγκόσμια μυθολογία", изд. Παπαμάρκου, том 1, Αθήνα, 1998, стр. 33 - 86 (Введение, божества Гелиопольской Эннеады и семьи Осириса (Нун, Атум или Тум, Ра или Ре, Хепри, Шу, Тефнут или Тефнет, Онурис или Инхерт, Геб, Нут, Осирис, Исида, Сет, Нефтида, Гор, Гор Ур или Гаруэрис, Гор Бех(е)дет(и), Герахти или Гарахти, Гор-м-Ахет или Гармакес, Гор сын Исиды, Хатхор, Анубис, Упуаут или Уепуауэт или Офоис, Тот, Сешет), божества покровительствующие фараону и царству (Нехбет, Буто, Менту, Аммон, Мут, Хонсу, Себек или Сухос, Птах или Фта, Секер или Сокарис, Сехмет или Сахмида, Нефертум, Баст, Нейт), божества реки и пустыни (Хнеф или Кнеф или Хнуфис, Херишеф или Арсафис, Сатет или Сатис, Анукет или Анукида, Мин, Хапи), божества рождения и смерти живых существ (Таурт или Туэрида, Хекет, Машкенет, Хатхор, Саи, Рененут, Ренпет, Бес, Селкет или Селкида, четыре сына Гора, Аменти, Мертсегер, Психостасия, Маат, Нехех), обожествлённые мужчины и фараон-бог (Имхотеп или Имутет, Аменофис сын Хапу, фараон), священные животные (Хапи, другие священные быки, Петесух, священные бараны - Мендис, Бену), выводы, каталог животных чьи головы носили древнеегипетские божества). Автор главы - J. Viau.
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Феликс Гюйран:

ЕГИПЕТСКАЯ МИФОЛОГИЯ

ВВЕДЕНИЕ

Те, кто хоть раз посетил части музеев, посвящённых Древнеегипетскому искусству, были потрясены огромным количеством божеств.

Есть колоссальных размеров статуи из песчанника, гранита и базальта. Есть статуи поменьше, а также - небольшие статуэтки из глины, бронзы и золота, которые изображают недвижимые в позах священника богов и богинь, которые восседают, либо находятся в стоящей позе, с телом человека, и с лицом либо человека, либо, чаще, четвероногого или птицы. Но и рельефы погребальных стел, большие саркофаги из твёрдых пород камня, рельефы на стенах храмов, росписи, укращающие папирусы "Книги мёртвых" и оболочку мумий, демонстрирующие те же самые божества, которые воспринимают культ и приношения верующих, либо ритуальные действия, производимые в пользу верующих.

Перед лицом этой массы божественных изображений, может показаться странным, если мы скажем, что Древнеегипетская религия не очень известна. Но это правда. Хотя нам известны имена всех этих мелких богов и храмов, где их почитали, мы как правило не знаем ничего об их природе, и игнорируем полностью связанные с ними мифы.

Конечно, до наших дней сохранилось много религиозных текстов, описывающих мифологические события. Но и там есть лишь общее не детальное описание, поскольку эти события были общеизвестными, и передавались в устной форме из поколения в поколение. Лишь миф об Осирисе, одном из величайших богов Древнеегипетского Пантеона, упоминается с большой детвльностью у отлично информированного Плутарха, который, хотя и был греческим писателем позднего времени, тем не ме менее его многочисленные тексты подтверждаются другими античными текстами - в особенности написанными за 25 веков до него, и написанными внутри пирамид древними царями VI династии.

Задолго до изобретения иероглифов, и вероятно в середине IV тысячелетия до н. э., в Египте появились первые божественные изображения.

В те времена люди жили на Ниле племенами, и каждое из них имело собственного бога, превращённого либо в птицу, либо в четвероногое животное, либо являвшееся простым фетишем. На камне для растирания порошка для макияжа, хранящемся в Лувре, мы видим мужчин одного из этих племён уходищих на охоту. Некоторые из них имеют бороды - что противоречит обычаям египтян в Исторический период - и имеют в качестве их единственного одеяния фартук, на поясе и на задней стороне которого завязан пышный хвост зверя. Лидер группы идёт впереди. Одной рукой он использует дубинку, а другой рукой он держит на палке некую эмблему, верхняя часть которой изображает сокола. На иных, схожих памятниках, вместо сокола изображается шакал, ибис (разновидность аиста с кривым клювом), скорпион, молния, бычья голова или две перекрещенные поверх щита стрелы.

Эти племенные боги вели своих сторонников в битву, и если было необходимо тоже сражались, помогая им, поскольку зачастую одна нога божественного животного оказывается в человеческой руке, которая держит оружие или орудие труда, которым она убивает врага, либо уничтожает его укрепления.

Даже после антропоморфизации их богов, египтяне не оставили своего прежнего образа мышления. Когда они полностью эволюционировали, от изначального божественного животного не осталось ничего, кроме головы на мужском или женском человеческом теле, и в некоторых случаях встречались уши животных и рога на человеческом лице.

Со II-й династии божественные типы уже обркли совершенно ясную форму, и они остались такими до самого конца язычества. Как охотники у старых племён, так и боги Исторического периода изображаются одетыми в короткий фартук, в задней части которого существовал хвост четырёхлапого животного, а богини, как великие госпожи, одевали узкую форму с подтяжками на плечах, достигавшими до лодыжек.

Боги и богини с человеческим телом имели главным образом головы животных, от которых они происходили, и богатый парик, который они одевали делал переход от носа плотоядного животного или клюва птицы к человеческому телу настолько деликатным, что даже мы сами сегодня не видим никакого неэстетичного зрелища в этом. Эти гетерогенные существа кажутся нам скорее реально существующими.

В других изображениях, где голова является человеческой, выбритое лицо богов украшается поддельной завивающейся искусственной бородой, которая сворачивается у края и напрминает нам бородатые лица первых египтян. В таком случае эти божества выделяются друг от друга различными одеваемыми ими коронами, и различными символами, которыми являются либо старинные фетиши, либо изначальное животное. В иных случаях при их опознании помогают иероглифы, поскольку таким образом записывалось их имя. Как прежние вожди, так и боги держат скипетр, одна сторона которого раздваивается, а другая украшена головой охотничьей собаки. Богини просто держат в руках кусочек папируса.

Когда животные и фетиши Доисторического периода стали божествами с человеческим лицом, кочевые охотники, которых эти божества вели на войну давно уже покинули свой кочевой образ жизни, и поселились на постоянной основе в домах, поселив своих богов в самом большом городе региона, превратив их из племенных богов в богов местных.

Но в то же время боги не могут избежать старости вечно. Некоторые из богов даже умерли.

Как каждое племя имело своего бога, так и каждый город имел своего бога, который считался "господином города" и обладал в нём первым местом. Бог, это был образ и подобие человека очень могущественного. Каждый такой бог имел собственную живую переменную, жидкость са (sa), которая омолаживает его столько, сколько бы он этого ни захотел, через наложение рук другого бога, обладавшего жидкостью са в большем количестве. К сожалению, боги в то же время не могут избегать старости вечно. Некоторые из них даже умирли. Богу нравилось представать перед людьми либо в форме статуи, которая находилась в его храме, либо в форме фетиша, либо даже в виде животного, избранного им, которое посвящённые ему опозновали по некоторым его знакам. В эти статуи, фетиши и священных животных бог вселялся.

Первоначально эти боги жили очень уединённо, потому что они считали важной свою независимость. Однако для египтянина жизнь без семьи была непонятна, и по этой причине он быстро поженил бога или богиню, и затем к этой божественной паре он присоединял бога-сына, формируя тем самым божественную триаду, в которой, однако, бог-отец не всегда был лидером, потому что если в некоторых случаях богиня была главным местным божеством, то он ограничивался ролью божественного супруга, как например произошло в Дендере, где главным божеством была богиня Хатхор.

Они верили, что бог жил в храме совместно с его семьёй, иногда совместно с другими богами, которые гостили у него. Лишь фараон, которого бог именовал своим "сыном", имел право представать перед ним. Однако, поскольку для одного человека было невозможно вершить службу в каждом храме, царь уполномачивал одного высшего священника, ответственного для вершения культового ритуала, в каждый из великих храмов Египта. Масса жрецов и жриц представляли из себя персонал (назовём его так), бога, и управляли его бесконечными владениями. В регулярные даты "господин города" соглашался появляться во всём своём блеске перед народом, и когда он выходил из тени храма, где лишь представитель фараона имел право почитать его каждый раз, он обходил величественно город на носилках из золота, которые держали жрецы.

Кроме местных богов, которые одержали верх одновременно во многих регионах, а также и по всей стране, все египтяне почитали великие божества природы - например Небо, Землю, Солнце, Луну и великую реку, которая, согласно Геродоту, создала Египет - Нил.

В древнеегипетском языке слово "небо" женского рода. Нут или Хатхор ("Небо") была богиней, изображавшейся как корова, в естественной позе (то есть стоящей на четырёх ногах на земле), либо женщиной с продолговатым выпуклым телом в виде дуги над землёй, опирающимся на землю лишь краями пальцев своих рук и ног. То, что мы видим сияющим над нами сверху, это для египтян было звёздным телом богини. Иногда египтяне представляли себе небо как голову божественного сокола, чьи очи открывались и закрывались, по-очереди, являя собой тем самым Солнце и Луну.

Напротив, слово "земля" было мужского рода. Это был Геб, бог Земли. Он изображался как мужчина, возлежащий на своей спине, из которого произрастала вся растительность.


Иллюстрация 5: рельеф фараона Сети I, изображающий царя на троне в момент его коронации. В своих руках он держит скипетры священного вождя, и одевает корону Атеф. С одной стороны его поддерживает Edjo, богиня-кобра Бутиса, а с другой стороны - Нехбет, богиня-гриф из города Elkab. Обе богини изображены в виде галатной царицы.


Солнце имеет много имён, которые дают материал для множества объяснений. Как диск Солнце именовалось Атоном. А в зависимости от его позиции на небе оно именуется Хепри в момент восхода, Ра в зените и Атон при закате. Оно именуется также Гором, что вкупе с Ра его почитали по всему Египту как Ра Гор-Ахти. Египтяне говорили, что Солнце рождалось каждое утро либо от небесной коровы как молочный телёнок, либо как маленький мальчик от богини Неба.

Также говорили, что Солнце имело многоцветные перья соеола и он бежвл по Небу, либо что он был лишь правым глазом этой великой божественной птицы, либо яйцом, которое рожала лишь однажды божественная утка, но как правило верили, что это был гигантский скарабей, который толкал вперёд раскалённую солнечную сферу, как на земле священный скарабей подталкивает небольшой шар из навоза, внутри которого он отложил свои яйца.

Луна также имела различные имена, такие как Аху, Тот, Хонсу и иные считали, что она была рождена от богини Неба Нут. Иные де представляли её с головой собаки иои ибиса. В иных же случаях они верили, что это был левый глаз большого божественного сокола (правым глазом которого было Солнце).

Поскольку объяснения внешних явлений были недостаточгыми, жрецы в главных храмах начали формировать различные космогонические системы, относительно ростепенного появления богов и возникновения мира. Более или менее мы знакомы с четырьмя такими системами, которым обучали в крупных религиозных центрах в Гермуполе, Гелиуполе, Мемфисе и Бусириде. В каждом из этих святилищ жрецы приписывали творческую деятельность главному местному богу. В указанной очереди городов, Тот, Ра, Птах и Осирис были объявлены творцами мира с одинаковыми титулами, однако с разными методами сотворения каждый внутри своего храма (творцами мира и человека, впрочем, именовались и иные боги, кроме этих). Они распространяли своё учение о том, как другие боги вышли изо рта творца, и о том, как всё возникло из его голоса, и что божественные существа родились из плевка творца, либо от его блудного действа (когда он излил свою сперму себе в руку, взял её себе в рот и сплюнул, создав других богов). О людях говорили, что они родились из пота или из слёз творца, и, быть может совместно с другими животными и живыми существами, кроме богов, они были созданы из высохшей грязи Нила, из которой творец придал им форму при помощи гончарного круга. По другой версии мифа, творец создал всех живых существ из земли, вылепив их на гончарном круге.

Подобно всем народам Древности, египияне всё объясняли при помощи божественного вмешательства, и верили, что во всём заключена божественная сила. Тем самым боги, которые почитались в долине Нила были многочисленны, если судить по каталогу, обнаруженному в гробнице Тутмосиса III, гле перечислено примерно 740 имён богов.

Большинство из них известно лишь по имени, и нет смысла заниматься ими в этом нашем исследовании. Напротив, мы займёмся обсуждением всех тех божеств, которых египтяне почитали в самом деле, и которые играли важную роль в Древнеегипетской мифологии, предоставляя преимущество богам и богиням, которые имели связи с Гелиопольской Девяткой, и с космогонической системой, которой преподавали жрецы в этом городе.

Мы завершим своё расследование великими богами покровительствовавшими фараону и царству, в хронологическом порядке, которые родились и воспреобладали на протяжении правления различных династий. Далее последуют боги реки и пустыни, божества, которые в некоторой мере вмешивались в рождение и смерть людей. Наконец, рассмотрим обожествлённых людей, в числе которых и дивой фараон, которого считали живым богом. Завершим мы этот наш обзор Древнеегипетской мифологии рассмотрением священных животных, которые в конце периода идолопоклонничества были самыми популярными божествами Египта. Мы предоставим список четверононогих, птиц и насекомых, которые боги присвоили себе как свои символы, в виде своих голов или иных своих качеств.

БОЖЕСТВА ГЕЛИОПОЛЬСКОЙ ЭННЕАДЫ И СЕМЬИ ОСИРИСА

Нун, Ну или Нау (Νουν, Noun, Nou, Naou) - это божество хаоса, первоначальный океан, в котором пребывали ранее сотворения мира зародыши всех предметов и всех живых существ. В текстах он именуется "отцом богов", но он всегда оставался простым духом сотворения, без собственного храма, культа и почитателей. Он изображался в виде человека полупогружённого в воду, и в своих воздетых вверх руках он держал богов, созданных им.

Атум или Тум или Атуму или Туму (ο Ατούμ, ο Τουμ, Atoum, Toum, Atoumou, Toumou) - имя Атум, видимо, происходит от корня означающего "не существую" и "я полон". Этот бог первоначально был местным божеством Гелиополя, и он имел в качестве священного животного быка Мневиса. С очень глубокой древности жрецы сравнивали и смешивали его с Ра, великим солнечным богом, и они провозглашали, что прежде чем было создано мироздание, внутри Нуна жил "дух ещё не сформированный, но имевший в себе сумму всего и всех существ" - Атум. Однажды этот дух предстал, назвав себя Атум-Ра, и он при помощи своего естества создал из самого себя всё, включая богов, людей и все живые существа.

Позднее Атум был олицетворением солнца, которое заходило, и которое восходило, и он обычно широко почитался в Египте, вкупе с культом Ра.

Вообще, люди почитали Атума как прародителя человеческого рода, и он всегда изображался с головой человека, который одевал корону пхсент или псчент (phsent), которая была двойной короной фараонов. Это был первоначально уединённый бог, и египтяне верили, что он без участия женщины, сам по себе, породил первую божественную пару. Позднее ему была дана супруга, а в некоторых местах - две супруги, поскольку в Мемфисе его соединяли то с Юсас (Jousas), то с Небет Хотеп (Nebet Hotep), с которой он породил детей-близнецов, Шу и Тефнут.

Ра или Ре (ο Ρε, Re, Ra, Rhra) - слово Ра, быть может, означает "создатель", "творец", и этим словом было названо Солнце - абсолютный владыка Неба. Его главное святилище находится в "Июн Севера", который по этой причине греки назвали Гелиополем. Там, согласно тому, что утверждали местные жрецы, этот бог явился впервые, и к тому же на камне, имевшем форму обелиска Бенбен (Benben), который с тех пор он хранил с благочестием в храме, названном Het Benben - "Башня Обелиска".

Прежде чем появился бог Солнца, согласно тому, что рассказывали гелиопольцы, он (Солнце) отдыхал внутри Нуна под именем Атум, в первичном океане (Нун), и заботился, чтобы не потух его свет, держа очи закрытыми, или прячась в лепестке лотоса. Однако однажды, в связи с тем, что его мучало отсутствие у него индивидуальности, он по собственному желанию поднялся вверх при помощи силы духа над бездной, блистая, обретя личность, и тем самым он явился полным света под именем Ра.

Тогда от него родились Шу и Тефнут, от них - Геб и Нут, а от тех, в свою очередь, Осирис, Исида, Сет и Нефтида - всего восемь великих божеств, которые во-главе со своим вождём Ра или Ра-Атумом, поскольку эти два божества стали отождествляться, сформировали великую божественную Гелиопольскую Девятку. Первую божественную пару породил Ра без участия женщины, лишь позже ему дали в жёны Раит (это женская форма имени Ра, "женская ипостась Ра") или Jousas, Эусос (Eous-os), Quert-Hekeou. Что же касается людей и других живых существ, то египтяне верили, что те были рождены от слёз Ра, поскольку в древнеегипетском языке "люди" и "слёзы" звучали одинаково.

Одновременно, бог создал первую Вселенную, которая была иной, чем наш сегодняшний мир, и он правил им из своей "княжеской башни" ("княжеского дворца") Гелиополя, где он обычно жил. "Книги пирамид" детально описывают царственный образ жизни, и каким образом бог, после того как он сперва купался и ел свой завтрак, вступал в свою лодку, и начинал осматривать вместе со своим секретарём по-имени Унеб (Ouneb) все двенадцать провинций своего царства, оставаясь по часу в каждой из них.

Пока Ра оставался молодым и сильным, он управлял мирно над богами и людьми. Однако с течением времени он всё более портился, и в текстах он описывается как старик с трясущимися губами и с вечно текущей с них слюной.

Далее нам удастся увидеть, каким образом Исида, воспользовавшись старческой слабостью Рв, сумела узнать его тайное имя, и тем самым обрести бесконечную силу и абсолютную власть.

Даже люди поняли, что Ра ослаб и состарился, и они перестали почитать его, и говорили о нём без уважения. Узнав об этом, Ра разозлился настолько, что он созвал свой божественный совет и, попросив мнение богов о мерах, которые он должен был принять, он решил наказать виновных, и бросить свой божественный взор на своих мятежных подданных.

В другой главе мы расскажем, что божественное Око в облике богини Хатхор налетело на виновников и немилосердно перебило их, и что теперь Ра был удовлетворён и прервал избиение, поскольку его доброта не позволяла ему полностью уничтожить человеческий род.

Но неблагодарность людей вынудила его покинуть землю и удалиться далеко от любого оскорбления. По приказу Нуна богиня Нут превратилась в корову, послеичего она взяла Ра на свою спину и подняла его до купола неба, и таким образом она создала, как мы увидим в главе посвящённой Нут, современный мир.

С тех пор как Ра окончательно покинул земной мир и поднялся на Небо, он жил совсем иной жизнью, абсолютно нормальной. Двенадцать дневных часов он обходил небосвод с Востока на Запад, и избегал нападения своего извечного врага Апопа или Апофиса (Apophis, Apapi, Apap, Άποφις) - этого большого вечного змея, который жил в глубинах небесного Нила, и у которого иногда - при затмениях - получалось проглотить небесную лодку Солнца. Однако в конце концов защитники Ра одолевали Апопа, и вновь сбрасывали Апопа в бездну.

В 12 ночных часов угрозы, которым подвергался Ра, были ещё больше. Однако он преодолевал их, и переходил от пещеры к пещере, где жители Подземного мира восклицали к нему, ожидая в нетерпении его свет, поскольку после отбытия Ра там наступала глубокая тьма на 23 часа.

Древнеегипетские жрецы говорили, что Ра рождвется едедневно в виде младенца, который до обеда становится великим мужчиной, к вечеру он стареет и умирает ночью.

Его изображали различными образами. Иногда в образе юного князя, сидящего на лотосе, откуда он прыгнул в момент своего рождения. Либо в виде сидящего или идущего мужчины, имеющего над своей головой солнечный диск, вокруг которого окутан василиск (или уреос), ужасная священная гадюка, мечущая огонь, и уничтожающая врагов бога. Наконец, он изображается в виде Efou-Re (вариант: Elon Re), то есть в облике человека с головой барана, о котором верили, что это было олицетворение умершего при наступлении ночи Солнца в его ночном маршруте, вселявшегося в него.

На многих изображениях он предстаёт как мужчина с головой сокола, над которой размещён солнечный диск и василиск на этом диске. Это - Ра-Нор-Ахти, великий солнечный бог Гелиополя, абсолютный владыка Египта. Образов и имён Ра много - семьдесят пять из них написаны в текстах магических ритуалов в честь Солнца, на рельефах и на входах в царские погребения.

Вообще, он известен как творец и как владыка мира, с которым отождествились все остальные боги. Он был в Древнем Египте очень уважаемым фараонами божеством. Все они были любимцами Ра, и имели титулатуру "сын Ра". Согласно одному из мифов бог Солнца подменил законного супруга, и породил с Rouditdidit, женой верховного жреца, трёх первых царей V династии. Ра возвращался на землю каждый раз, когда он должен был сойтись с царицей, чтобы породить нового фараона.

В знаменитом Гелиопольского святилище, где его чтили в виде гигантского обелиска Бенбен (который считали окаменевшим лучом Солнца и вселившимся в тело быка Мневиса, и иногда в птицу Бену (Benou)), не осталось более ничего кроме аморфных руин и одного обелиска - древнейшего в Египте, который был возведён фараоном Сенусертом I из XII династии.

Хепри (Khepri, ο Χεπρί) - это слово означает одновременно "скарабей" и "тот, кто становится". Для гелиополитов он олицетворял Солнце, которое восходит, которое наподобие скарабею возрождается из собственного естества (из самого себя). Хепри это бог изменений, посредством которых открывается обновление жизни. Он изображается как мужчина, имеющий на своём лице скарабея, либо с головой мужчины, на которой находилось это насекомое, либо даже просто в облике скарабея.

Шу (Shou, Shoou, ο Σου) - вместе со своей сестрой-близнецом Тефнут, он стал первой супружеской парой Гелиопольской Девятки. Он был порождён Ра без спаривания с женщиной. Его имя происходит от глагола "поднимать", и означает "тот, кто поднимает". Подобно Атланту Греческой мифологии Шу поддерживает Небо, и, согласно мифам, он по приказу Ра встал между своими двумя детьми, богом Земли Гебом и богиней Неба Нут, которые дотоле были тесно соединены, и силой разделил их друг от друга, подняв Нут в воздух, где он с тех пор и держит её своими руками.

Шу это бог атмосферы или пустоты. Как и другие боги природы, он не имел культа. Он всегда изображается в облике человека с пояснительным знаком на голове в виде пера страуса - идеограммы его имени.

Преемник Ра в мирском царстве, он, как и его отец, познал приключения власти, поскольку дети Апопа подняли мятеж и напали на него в его дворце At Noub. Он победил их, но в итоге устал от власти и заболел, и тогда против него восстали и его подданные. Он покинул своё царство и своего сына Геба, и ушёл на Небо, после того как пострадал от кошмарного шторма, длившегося 9 дней.

Тефнет или Тефнут (Tefnet, Tefnout, Tfenet, η Τεφνέτ) - видимо, это божественное существо из области теологии, а не реальный персонаж. В Гелиополе она считалась сестрой-близнецом и супругой Шу. Однако представляется, что в более глубокой Древности она спарилась с неким богом Тефеном (Tefen), от которого нам известно лишь его имя.

Богиня влаги или дождя, Тефнет была солнечным божеством, и её почитали в облике львицы или женщины с головой львицы. Греки отождествляли её со своей Артемидой. В текстах она описывается как бледная сестра Шу, которая помогала ему удерживать Небо и вместе с ним они первыми ежеутренне встречали Солнце, восходившее с восточных гор.

Онурис (ο Όνουρις, Inhert, Inherit, Anhert, Anhûr, Anhour, Enhor, Enhouri, Enhûri) - это имя означает "тот, который несёт ту, что ушла", и которое переводили как "носитель небес". Это бог, почитавшийся в городах Тисин и Себеннит. Он символизировал, как полагают некоторые, космогоническую силу Солнца. Онурис очень рано был отождествлён с Шу, от чего он получил имя Онурис-Шу, и в этом образе он считался воинственным олицетворением Ра олицетворением военного Ра). По этой причине греки отождествляли его с богом войны Аресом.

Его изображали воином с четырьмя большими стоящими вертикально перьями на его голове. Он одевал длинное вытканное одеяние, держал копьё, которым он в большинстве случаев потрясал, и иногда его изображали держащим и влачащим при помощи верёвки Солнце. Согласно мифам, одно Око Ра, покинуло Египет, и тогда Онурис вернул его из Нубии. Однако, когда это Око Ра увидело, что его место было занято другим Оком Ра, то он взбунтовался. Тогда Ра разместил его на своём лбу, и затем это Око Ра превратидось в василиска, чтобы защищать Ра от его врагов.

Онурис был популярен в эпоху Нового царства, и его именовали "Спасителем" и "Добрым Воителем", и верующие взывали к нему, когда они хотели нанести удар по своим врагам и по (вредоносным) животным, которых он постоянно преследовал на своей колеснице. Представляется, что популярность Онуриса имела большую продолжительность, поскольку Геродот упоминает большие празднования в его честь, которые он видел происходившими в Папремине, где жрецы и верующие обменивались с особым рвением множеством ударов палок в честь своего бога. Супругой Онуриса была Мехит (Mehit), вероятно подобное Тефнут (сестры и жены бога Шу) божество. Мехит почиталась в городе Тисин, и её изображали как женщину с головой львицы.

Геб или Зеб (Geb, Kebou, Seb, Sibou, Sivou) - он был вместе с Нут второй парой Эннеады, и Плутарх отождествлял их с Кроном и Рее. На деле это был бог Земли, фундамента Вселенной. Несколько почитать его начали лишь в эпоху Классики.

Мы уже знаем, что Шу разделил Геба от Нут, его сестры и супруги, и с тех рор он держит траур день и ночь.

Он также изображается лежащим в ногах Шу, перед которым он бесполезно пытался защитить свою жену. Он выглядит как опирающийся на свой локоть, с одной ногой согнутой, что символизирует горы и неровности земной поверхности, которцю олицетворяет его тело, которое на изображениях передаётся как покрытое растительностью. Почти всегда он изображается как мужчина, у которого отсутствуют особые черты, однако в некоторых изображениях у него есть гусыня на его голове - идеограмма его имени.

Некоторые мифы представляют его как некую гусыню - и именуют его "Великим Гоготуном" (ο "Μεγας Φλυαρος) - женская пара которого родила Яйцо Солнца. Иные представляли его как сильного быка, который оплодотворил небесную корову.

Как правило верили, что Геб нормальным образом породил с Нут осирических богов, и оттуда происходит его наименование как "отец богов".

Это был тоетий царь, сменивший на троне Шу. Его царствование было довольно беспокойным. В одном тексте, воспевавшем священные остатки некоего святилища, говорится, что Ра закрыл своего василиска, поскольку это был опасный талисман, внутри золотого сундука, где вместе с его посохом и одним локоном его волос, поместив в крепость на восточной границе его империи.

Этот сундук Геб открыл с ужасными для себя результатом: дыхание божественного змея немедленно убило всех его компаньонов, а затем тяжело ранило его самого. Лишь локон из его волос смог излечить Геба - так велика бфла сила его волос, что много лет спустя захотели погрузить его в At Noub ради очищения, и он немедленно обратился в крокодила. Когда Геб вернул себе своё здоровье, то он стал мудро прааить над своим царством, и наконец передал власть своему первородному сыну Осирису, и поднялся на небо, где он иногда занимает место Тота в качестве глашатая Ра и судьи разногласий между богами.

Нут (Nout, Neout, Nouit) - её древние греки отождествляли с Реей. Это была богиня неба. В конце эпохи Классики египтяне и в самом деле начали почитать её. Ога была сестрой-близнецом Геба, и вышла за него замуж несмотря на нежелание и в неведение Ра. По этой причине Ра разозлился, и отдал приказ, чтобы Шу насильно разделил двух супругов, и принял решение, чтобы богиня Нут не могла родить "ни в один месяц года".

Плутарх сообщает об этом:

"К счастью, однако, Тот смилостивился над ней, и сыграл в шашки с Луной, у которой он во многих партиях выиграл одну семьдесятвторую часть её света, и из него он сооружил целых пять дней. Поскольку эти дни не относятся к обычному отсчёту передвижных праздников, Нут сумела породить, одного за другим, четыре своих ребёнка: Осириса, Гора-Ура, Сета, Исиды и Нефтиды".

Богиня Неба изображается как женщина с высоким и выпуклым телом, тогда как она опирается на края своих пальцев ног и рук, тогда как её украшенное звёздами лоно, которое Шу держит в воздухе, формирует небосвод.

Зачастую она изображается как корова, посколтку по приказу Нут, и в этом облике она перенесла на своей спине бога Ра, когда тот, после мятежа людей, покинул Землю. Чтобы послушать бога, добрая корова выросла настолько, что её охватил страх высоты, и понадобилось поддержать её ноги, которфе с тех пор стали опорами , которые поддерживали Небо при помощи одного бога. Та же версия мифа видит Шу держащим лоно коровы, которое обратилось в небосвод, куда Ра аккуратно ложил звёзды и созвездия, чтобы они освещали Землю. Обыкновенно говорят, что она - мать Ра и Солнца, который ежеутренне рождается из её лона в различных образах.

Когдв она является в человеческом облике, богиня имеет на своей голове круглый сосуд - идеограмму её имени. Она является покровительницей умерших, и изображается держащей в своих объятиях умершего, тогда как внутри внутренней крышки саркофагов её звёздное тело изображается на мумии, которую она охраняет так, будто она является её матерью.

Изображение 6: анафематическая техника (реверс) с рельефом царя Нармера и его свиты при инспекции поля боя, в окружении серий из жертв. Снизу: он изображается как мощный бык, который берёт укреплённый город на пути Азии. Вокруг центра изображееия его свита держит на поводках длинношерстных кошачьих.


Осирис - это греческая форма имени, соответствующая древнеегипетскому слову Ousir. Он отождествлялся древними греками со многими их божествами - главным образом с Дионисом и Аидом. Первоначально это был бог природы, выражающий дух растительности, которая умирает и возрождается с сеянием семян. Его чтил весь Египет как бога мёртвых. В этом качестве он попал в число высших богов Древнеегипетского Пантеона.

Иероглифические тексты упоминают многие деяния Осириса, пока он жил на Земле, хотя и не раскрывают их полностью. Но и Плутарх предоставил детали этого мифа.

Осирис был первородным сыном Геба и Нут, рождённым в Фивах Верхнего Египта, после чего немедленно таинственный голос провозгласил явление "Господина Вселенной". Одновременно он вызвал возгласы радости, но немного спустя, как только стали известны грозившие Осирису беды, возникли траур и плач. Когда Ра узнал о рождении Осириса, то он возрадовался, хотя и проклял некогда его мвть Нут, чтобы она более не могла рожать. Итак, он призвал его к себе, и сделал его своим преемником на троне.

Осирис был прекрасным шатеном, самым высоким из всех людей. Когда его отец Геб удалился на Небо, он стал его преемником на троне Египта, и провозгласил царицей свою сестру Исиду.

Первая применённая им мера как новым владыкой была отмена людоедства, он обучил своих полудиких подданных искусству (умению) сооружения аграрных инструментов, чтобы обрабатывать землю, производить пшеницу и виноград, а из них делать хлеб, вино и пиво для пропитания людей.

Культ богов был ещё неизвестен, и Осирис учредил его, и создал первые храмы, вырезал первые изображения богов, сформулировал порядок религиозных праздненств и открыл две формы свирелей, которые должны были сопутствовать песням на праздниках.

Затем он основал города и учредил справедливые законы, и поэтому он справедливо был назван именем Унофрис ("Добрый"), под которым он известен в качестве четвёртого божественного фараона. Конечно, Осирис не ограничился тем, что он цивилизовал Египет, но он решил просветить таким же образом и весь остальной мир. Он оставил вместо себя править в качестве вице-королевы Исиду, а сам отправился покорять Азию, вместе с великим советником Тотом, и с высшими офицерами Анубисом и Офоисом (Упуаутом). Имея в качестве своего оружия своё спокойствие, и будучи противником насилия, он при помощи этого своего качества захватил одну страну за другой, которые он проходил, делая их своими союзниками, завоёвывая симпатии их жителей песнями и концертами с использованием многих музыкальных инструментов. Он вернулся в Египет после того, как пересёк весь мир, и повсюду распространив цивилизацию.

По своему возвращении, он нашёл своё царство в отменном состоянии, потому что Исида правила там мудро, пока его не было. Осирис был очень доволен этим. Однако очень скоро он пал жертвой заговора, который затеял его брат Сет, который хотел свергнуть его с трона.

В главах связанных с Исидой и Сетом, мы подробнее увидим как 17 числа месяца Хатхир (Αθύρ), на 28-м году своего правления, "Добрый" пал от ударов заговорщиков. И как его верная жена нашла его тело, и вернула его в Египет, благодаря своей магии. И как она силой волшебства, и при помощи Тота, Анубиса и Гора, сумела вновь вернуть его к жизни, после чего Осирис предстал перед Судом Богов, где председательствовал Геб, и оправдался там от обвинений Сета.

Воскрешенный и, возможно, бессмертный, Осирис мог бы вновь взойти на свой трон и править над смертными. Однако он предпочёл оставить Землю и удалиться на Иару, где он принимает праведные души блаженных и правит над мёртвыми.

Вот миф об Осирисе. Единственный реальный элемент о его происхождении представляет Осириса, очевидно, как фетиш некоего захватнического племени, которое насадило его сперва в Бусириде Нижнего Египта, где новый бог сменил предыдущего главу города, Анзи или Антзи (Anzi, Antzi), от которого он принял облик и имя. А позднее - в Абидосе Верхнего Египта, где Осирис был отождествлён с Хент Аменти (Khent Amenti), богом-волком западного некрополя, и стал великим божеством умерших, и где его иногда именовали Хент Аментиу (Khent Amentiou) - "Главой Западных", то есть умерших, которые остались в тех местах, где заходит Солнце.

Мы упомянем здесь лишь немного из космогонияеских объяснений, которые древние египтяне придавали мифу Осириса. Это был дух растительности, который умирает и возрождается постоянно, символизируя зерно, виноград, деревья, Нил, который разливается ежегодно, свет Солнца, который гаснет каждый вечер и вновь разгорается светом утром, возрождаясь вновь. Вражда между двумя братьями символизирует тенденцию пустыни покрыть песком обрабатываемую землю, катастрофические вылазки горячего воздуха с целью погубить цветущую растительность, непрерывное нападение засухи на плодородную воду, войну тьмы против света.

Осирис стал популярен лишь в качестве бога мёртвых, поскольку он давал своим верующим надежду жить вечно и счастливо в ином мире, со справедливым и добрым царём.

Он почитался совместно со своей сестрой Исидой и с их поздно рождённым сыном Гором по всему Египту, формируя вместе с ними осирическую триаду. Особым культом он пользовался в Абидосе, где жрецы показывали его гробницу неисчислимому множеству паломников. Поклонники были счастливы, если они могли обеспечить себе место рядом со святилищем, чтобы быть погребены там, или по-крайней мере получить разрешение установить там стелу с их именем, потому что таким образом они считали, что добиваются благоволения "Доброго" в ином мире.

Осирис изображается одевающим плотно прилегающее к нему одеяние, стоящим или восседающим на троне. Он одевал высокую белую митру с двумя перьями страуса, корону Атеф (Atef) под именем и красное колье. Его руки, перекрещённые на груди вне савана, держат кнут и скипетр в форме крючка (именовавшийся hiq) - эмблемы высшей власти.

Его многочисленные эпонимы достигают числом примерно сотню, и записаны в магических ритуалах "Книги мёртвых".

Подобно другим божествам, Осирису нравилось воплощаться в различных животных, как например в быка Онуфиса (ο Όνουφις), священного барана Мендиса, птицу Бену, а также в простой фетиш Джед (Djed), который, видимо, был его первой формой, в которой он вёл своих доисторических верующих на войну. Поначалу Джед имел форму срубленного ветвистого ствола ели или иного вечнозелёного дерева; в Классический период он изображался в виде колонны с четырьмя капителями -- в некоторых книгах считалось, что он соответствовал хребту бога, и его хранили в знаменитом великом святилище, находившемся в Бусириде.

Здесь не хватило бы места для описания праздников производившихся на юбилеи величайших событий в честь Осириса. Истинные таинства вершились перед народом, где жрецы и жрицы имитировали святые страсти и воскресение Осириса.

Исида - это имя являлось греческой формой написания древнеегипетского имени Iset (Ese). Греки уподобляли её Деметре, Гере, Селене и даже Афродите, поскольку между тем произошло смешение Исиды с Хатхор. Исида стала очень популярной богиней древних египтян в Новейший период, и сумела поглотить качествв всех богинь. Поначалу она была незначительным божеством в Дельте Нила, госпожой местечка Per Hebet, на север от Бусирида, где с глубокой Древности и до самого конца существовало её знаменитое святилище. Ещё в глубокой древности её поженили с богом соседнего города Осирисом, и вместе с их сыном Гором они сформировали триаду. Их популярность возросла очень быстро. В период новейших царств Египта Исида включила в себя культ и качества всех древнеегипетских богинь.

Плутарх описывает её миф так.

Исида была первая дочь Геба и Нут, она была рождена в четвёртый дополнительный день, в районе болот Дельты Нила. Её брат Осирис избрал её себе в жёны, и совместно с ним она взошла на трон правительницы над смертными. Она помогла своему супругу в его цивилизаторской и просветительской работе, обучая женщин, как им молоть в муку зёрна, как плести лён, и как ткать. Также она продемонстрировала им способ лечения больных, обучив их методам лечения, и научила египтян жить в семьях, основав тем самым институт брака.

Она была вице-королевой Египта, когда отсутствовал её супруг, мирно покоряя мир, и она мудро правила, пока он не вернулся.

Конечно, ей было очень больно, когда она узнала о том, что Осирис был убит их общим братом, жестоким Сетом. Тогда она обрезала свои волосы, порвала свои одежды и ушла искать сундук, в котором заперли "Доброго" заговорщики, затем сбросившие его в Нил. Сундук из Нила попал в море по Танитскому устью Нила, и был вымыт на побережье Финикии, близ корней дерева восковницы (древесный куст, растущий у морского берега), и укрыла его внутри своего ствола, который чудесным образом быстро разросся, чтобы вместить сундук. Когда позднее восковницу срубили слуги местного царя Малкандра, чтобы соорудить колонны для поддержки крыши царского дворца, это чудесное дерево стало производить приятный аромат. Как только Исида услышала об этом, она сразу поняла, что происходит, и немедленно отправилась в Финикию.

Там царица Астарта доверила богине присмотр и воспитание своего новорожденного сына. Исида попыталась сделать его бессмертным, если бы его мать "не испортила колдовство" своими криками, когда увидела богиню, купающую своего ребёнка в очистительном огне. Чтобы успокоить её, Исида открыла ей, кто она, и для чего она явилась в Финикию. Тогда Астарта дала ей драгоценную деревянную колонну, за которой та прибыла, и Исида извлекла из неё гробницу своего супруга, омыла её своими слёзами, и быстро перевезла её в Египет, где укрыла её в болотах близ Буто, вдали от ненависти Сета. Однако тот случайно обнаружил труп своего брата, и распилил его на 14 кусков, которые разбросал в разных частях Египта, чтобы уже окончательно погубить Осириса.

Это не разочаровало Исиду, которая в своих поисках нашла его останки, за исключением его фаллоса, который поглотила одна из нильских рыб, осётр (οξυρρυγχος ο καταραμενος), который был отныне за это навсегда проклят. Затем богиня соединила куски тела мужа и восстановила его при помощи своей сестры Нефтиды, своего племянника Анубиса, правителя и своего советника Тота, и своего последнего, позднего сына Гора, которого она зачала от мёртвого уже Осириса, когда спарилась с трупом своего супруга, после того как она вдохнула в него жизнь своим колдовством. После этого она впервые в истории совершила обряд мумификации, которым она подарила Осирису вечную жизнь.

После всего этого Исида отправилась в болотистое Буто (вариант: покинула болота Буто), чтобы избежать разъярённого Сета и взрастить в безопасности своего сына Гора, пока он не повзрослеет и не отомстит за своего отца. Его мать со своим колдовством помогла Гору избежать все опасности, поскольку она была великой чародейкой, способнрй воздействовать даже на богов. Когда она была простой женщиной и обслуживала Ра, то она сумела выведать и обрести колдовством его тайное имя.

И поскольку бог Солнца постарел настолько, что с его трясшихся губ лились слюни, она, воспользовавшись его дряхлостью, создала из почвы, пропитанной божественной слюной, ядовитую змею, и бросила её на пути, по которому должен был пройти Ра. Ра не знал этой змеи, поскольку не он создал её, и не мог одолеть её, поскольку утратил свою древнюю молодость. И поскольку он не сумел сам излечиться от ужасного яда этой неизвестной змеи, то он прибег к колдовским чарам Исиды. Та согласилась излечить его и нейтрализовать яд, чтобы изгнать ужасные боли, если Ра согласится открыть ей своё истинное имя.

Тогда тайное имя Ра было передано из его тела в тело Исиды, и другие боги не узнали его. В осирических мифах Исида символизирует плодородную землю Египта, которую ежегодно оплодотворяет разлившийся Нил. Осирис при этом олицетворяет саму реку, а Сет - пустыню.

Постоянно росшая популярность культа Исиды завершилась заменой ею культа почти всех других богинь, даже за пределами Египта. Она была покровительницей плывущих, и в Греко-римскую эпоху моряки и торговцы перевезли до берегов Рейна своё почтение к Исиде, поклоняясь ей как покровительнице моряков и вообще плывущих. В долине Нила её культ сохранился до середины VI века н. э., и лишь в Византии времён Юстиниана I Великого её храм на острове Филы, на самом юге Египта - единственный продолжавший действовать оплот Древнеегипетского язычества - был превращён в христианскую церковь.

Весной и осенью вершились в честь Исиды большие праздники, яркие службы и ритуалы, известные по описаниям Апулея, поскольку он был единственным посвящённым в мистерии Исиды, и единственным, кто приоткрыл нам таинство посвящения в них.

Исида изображается женщиной с троном на голове - идеограммой её имени, а также с двумя рогами, с диском с двумя крыльями на краях, либо без них (вариант: позднее она имела на голове, между рогов,, диск, иногда украшенный с обеих сторон крыльями. На других изображениях она имеет голову коровы с женским телом. Рога и голова коровы подтверждают, что существовала путаница между Исидой и Хатхор.

Однако Плутарх даёт иное объяснение, когда говорит, что "Исида захотела принять сторону Сета, убийцы её мужа, но и своего брата, и защитить его от справедливой мести своего сына Гора, и тот от нервов обратился против своей матери и обезглавил её".

Затем Тот превратил её своими чарами в корову (варипнт: оживил её, наделив её при помощи своей магии головой коровы). Это жвачное животное, которое было священным животным Исиды, имевшей в качестве своего фетиша магический узел Тат (т. н. "узел Исиды") и систрон - эмблему Хатхор.

На скульптурах и на изображениях Исида зачастую передаётся близ Осириса, помогающей ему и(ли) защищающей его своими крылатыми руками, что она делала на изображениях и для мёртвых. Иногда она изображалась плачущей у саркофагов. Также она изображвлась в роли матери, кормящей грудью маленького Гора, или сопутствующей ему, уже выросшему, в его соревнованиях против Сета.

Сет (ο Σηθ, Seth, Set, Sit, Sitou) - это злой брат Осириса. В конечном счёте, он олицетворял злой дух, который всегда и везде был противоположен духу добра. Греки именовали его Тифоном (Тайфуном). Плутарх рассказывает, что этот сын Геба и Нут был рождён преждевременно, в третий (вариант перевода: в седьмой) дополнительный день (από τις επαγόμενες ημέρες). Он выскочил из утробы своей матери настолько стремительно, что разорвал её бока (вариант перевода: разорвал его стенки). Он был жестоким и диким, имел белую кожу и красный (вариант перевода: красноватый) волос (цвет, который совершенно не нравился древним египтянам, и они уподобляли его цвету осла (вариант перевода: цвет, который египтяне так ненавидели, что сравнивали этот вид волос с шерстью осла)). Он ненавидел своего старшего брата Осириса (вариант перевода: он завидовал своему старшему брату Осирису), надеялся отнять у него корону, и сумел совершить это тогда, когда в Мемфисе происходили большие праздники о победоносном возвращении "Доброго" (вариант перевода имеет дополнение: из похода на восток). Заручившись помощью 72 соучастников, он призвал своего брата на пир, где велел доставить ему большой, прекрасно сооружённый (вариант: прекрасный) сундук (ящик).

"Этот сундук" - сказал он в виде шутки, - "получит тот, кто точно в него вместится".

Осирису понравилась эта игра, и он лёг в сундук, ничего не подозревая. Тогда заговорщики налетели сверху, в миг закрыли сундук крышкой и хорошенько забили её. Затем они бросили сундук в Нил, и он поже доставил его в город Библ, в Финикию.

С этого момента нам уже известно, каким образом Исида вернула егов Египет, и как Сет, охотясь однажды лунной ночью в болотах Дельты Нила, вновь случайно обнаружил его и, опознав труп своего брата, разрубил его на 14 кусков, которые он разбросал по полям, теперь уже уверенный, что он останется непобеспокоенным владыкой страны. И его даже не волновало, что его супруга Нефтида оставила его, перейдя на сторону партии сторонников Осириса, вместе с большинством богов, которые, во избежание жестокого тирана, прибегли к использованию тел различных животных, чтобы укрыться.

Между тем Гор, который вырос среди непроходимых болот Дельты Нила, планировал, каким образом он должен был отомстить за смерть своего отца, и отнять власть у Сета. Как мы уже сказали, Сет представлял собой вечного врага, и символизировал пустыню, сухоту, тьму, в противовес плодородной земле, плодоносной воде и свету. Всё благодетельное и творческое принадлежит Осирису, а всё разрушительное и подлое - Сету.

В очень древние годы не придавалось особого значения злому характеру бога. В старых "Текстах Пирамид" его воспринимают не только как брата Осириса, но также и Гора Древнего (вариант перевода: в Книге Пирамид брат Сета это не Осирис, а Гор Древний), и упоминают их вечные ужасные столкновения, которые завершаются лишь тогда, когда боги приняли решение отдать победу Гору, после чего Сет ушёл в изгнание в пустыню. Лишь когда окончательно оформился миф Осириса, и два Гора стали одним, лишь то Сет прекратил быть братом Гора, и стал вечным врагом Осириса.

Очевидно, первоначально о Сете говорили, что он был владыкой Верхнего Египта, и со временем почитатели сменившего его бога-сокола отняли у него власть. Видится, что мифические соревнования между двумя братьями соответствуют древнейшим историческим событиям.

При Древнем и Среднем царстве рельефы изображали Сета и Гора ведущими совместно пленников царя, либо привязывающими у основания царского трона растения, символы Верхнего и Нижнего Египта, идеограмма, соответствующая идее единения "Сма тауи" (Sma taoui - "единство двух стран") (вариант перевода: совершая таким образом обряд sma taoui).

В эпоху владычества гиксосов (на языке египетского жречества гик - "пастухи" (вариант перевода: гик - "царь", сос - "пастух")), новые цари уподобили Сета своему великому воинственному богу Сутеху (Soutekh), и построили, чтобы поклоняться ему, святилище в своей столице Аварисе. При Новом царстве фараон Рамзес II, отца которого звали Сет(х)и (Sethi, то есть "принадлежащий Сету", ο Σηθικός) не сомневался прославлять себя как "любимца Сета".

Сторонники Осириса были вне себя от того, что почитался убийца Доброго, и поэтому Сети был вынужден стереть изображение проклятого с рельефов своей гробницы, и с тех пор он стал именоваться не "принадлежащим Сету", а "принадлежащим Осирису" (ο Οσιρικός). Лишь около середины X века до н. э., при XXII династии, убийце Осириса настало настоящее наказание за его преступление. Были сломаны его статуи и разрушены его рельефные изображения (вариант перевода: изображения Сета начали уничтожаться, и кто бы ни написал его имя, сам его стирал). Наконец, Сет был исключён из Древнеегипетского пантеона, и превращён в бога осквернённых.

Таким образом бывший владыка Верхнего Египта превратился в египетского Диавола, врага всех богов. Ослы, антилопы и иные животные пустыни считались тайфуновскими, также как гиппопотам, свинья, крокодил и скорпион, в тело которых, как считали, бог зла и его приспешники бежали укрыться, чтобы избежать ударов победителя Гора. По одной из версий мифа, ранее в виде чёрного вепря Сет некогда ранил Гора в глаз, и каждый месяц он поедал Луну, на которую бежала душа Осириса.

Сет изображался как фантастическое животное, с тонким и выпуклым носом, стоящими ушами, "ровными" на краю, с негнущимся двойным хвостом. Но ни с каким иным животным не удалось отождествить этого зверя, и поэтому оно было названо "тифоновым животным". Также Сет изображается как человек с головой четвероногого животного, упомянутого выше.

Нефтида (η Νεφθυς) - это греческое написание имени древнеегипетской богини Nebt-Het. Плутарх именует её Телевтой (η Τελευτή), Афродитой и Никой. Она изображается как женщина с двумя иероглифами её имени над головой, означающими "Госпожа Башни (Крепости)". Эти иероглифы были одной корзиной (neb) над уровнем, означающем "башню", "крепость" (het).

Первоначально она была богиней мёртвых, а в мифе об Осирисе она стала дочерью Геба и Нут. Она вышла замуж за Сета, своего второродного брата, но, поскольку она не рожала детей в этом браке, она решила родить сына от Осириса, своего старшего, первородного брата. Для этого она опьянила его, и приняла его в свои объятия без того, чтобы он он понимал, что делает, и от этого блуда родился Анубис.

Согласно указанному мифу, Нефтида символизирует край сухой и жестокой пустыни, который, однако, оплодотворяется, когда воды Нила высоко поднимали свой уровень. Когда Сет убил своего брата, Нефтида в ужасе обезумела и бросила его. Она объединилась с защитниками Осириса, и помогла своей сестре Исиде мумифицировать труп убитого бога, произнося, попеременно с сестрой, то одни, то другие погребальные плачи из папирусных текстов. Приняв под своё покровительство защитные меры, такие же, как и для мумии их брата, "две близнеца" (как обыкновенно звали Нефтиду и Исиду) приняли на себя охрану умерших, став их охранницами. Поэтому они обычно изображались на саркофагах и на крышках гробов, стоящими на ногах или стоящими на коленях, с протянутыми руками, и с распростёртыми длинными крыльями - жестами, символизирующими защиту.

Изображение 7: техника изображения быка (в сохранившейся части) передаёт царя как динамичного быка, который ранит своими рогами одного интервента, имеющего бороду и свой мужской половой орган внутри специального вкладыша. Пъедестал завершается руками, держащими толстую верёвку, и бесспорно речь идёт об узах пленников, и в то же время он поддерживает союзников царя, которые разделяют победу.


Гор - 1. греческое написание древнеегипетского имени Hor. Это был солнечный бог, отождествлявшийся с Аполлоном, и изображавшийся соколом или человеком с головой сокола. Словом hor, которое звучит одинаково с "небом", древние египтяне обозначали сокола, по той причине, что эта птица летает на больших высотах. Многие представляли себе Небо как божественного сокола, а Солнце и Луну как его два Ока. Многочисленными и влиятельными должны были быть верующие сокола, которые изображались даже на доисторических памятниках, и на древнейших храмах. С древних времён сокол считался божественной, царской птицей, и соответствующий иероглиф "бог" - это иероглиф сокола стоявшего на дереве. Во всех регионах, где существовали верующие сокола, они почитали Гора, роль которого и символы которого с течением времени изменились настолько, что в Древнеегипетском пантеоне существовало примерно 20 Горов, главнейшими из которых были Гор-эн-Мерти, Гор Ур (имевший солнечные характеристики), Гор Бехедети (Ωρος της Μπεχεντεν, Behedeti) и Гор сын Исиды, отомстивший за смерть своего отца Осириса.

2. Аруэрес или Гор Ур (ο Αρουηρης, Hor Our) - греческое написание, означающее Великий Гор. Он почитался в Летополе под эпонимом Horkhenti irti, то есть "Гор с двумя очами, который наблюдает", и в Фарбайте под именем Hor Merti, то есть "Гор с двумя очами". Он был богом неба, и его два глаза это Солнце и Луна. Его день рождения был в последний день месяца Эпефа (Επηφι), когда два этих светила находились в равноденствии. "Тексты Пирамид" хотят видеть его сыном Ра и братом Сета. Вечное противоречие между светом и тьмой символизируется бесконечными столкновениями, когда Сет выбил одно око Гора, а тот оскопил своего непримиримого врага. Мы уже сказали выше, что суд Гелиопольской Девятки присудил победу божественному соколу, который с конца II династии предстаёт как единственный и исключительный предок фараона, и отныне он предстаёт в надписях как Hor Noubti, то есть "Гор, победитель Сета".

3. Бехедети (Behedeti, Μπεχεντέτι) - Гор Бехедети или Гор Худити (Harhouditi), то есть "Гор Бехедетский", это другой эпоним Небесного Гора, от слова Behedet (квартала древнего города Эдфу, который древние греки именовали Аполлониупооем или Большим (Мегале), поскольку они отождествляли хозяина главного святилища города, Гора Бехедети, с Аполлоном). Гор Бехедети как правило изображался как крылатый солнечный диск (такие изображения украшали наддверия храмов), в битвах он изображался как сокол, летевший над фараоном, тогда как в своих когтях он держал аллегорическую волосяную хлопушку для отгона мух (το μυγιαστήρι) и кольцо, символ вечности. Рельефы в святилище Эдфу изображают его как бога с соколиной головой, который ведёт против Сета войска Ра-Гор-Ахти, бога олицетворявшего единение в одном божестве Ра и одной из форм Гора, почитавшихся в Гелиополе.

4. Гор-Ахти или Арахте (Harakhti, ο Αραχτής) - это греческое написание древнеегипетского Αραχτης (Herakhti), что означает "Гор горизонтальный". Это было олицетворение Солнца, совершавшего дневной маршрут с восточного на западный горизонт. Издревле он отождествлялся с богом Ра, воспринимая все роли этого бога, Ра же, в свою очередь, воспринимал все эпонимы Гора, и под именем Ра-Гор-Ахти его культ воспреобладал во всём Египте.

5. Гор-м-Ахет или Гармакес - это греческое написание египетского имени Hor-m-akhet, означающего "Гор, что у горизонта". Часто он по ошибке занимал место Ра-Гор-Ахти. Гармакес это имя Большого Сфинкса (вариант перевода: одного из сфинксов), высотой 20 метров и длиной свыше 60 (вариант перевода: 50 метров), вырубленного в скале, с лицом царя Хефрена. Это страж на протяжении 5 тысяч лет пирамиды этого фараона, неподалёку от неё. Он олицетворяет восходящее Солнце и символизирует воскресение Хефрена из умерших (вариант перевода: он символизирует воскресение из мёртвых).

Поскольку Большой Сфинкс соседствует с пустыней, он, хотя и является огромным, сыздревле покрыт песком. Стела, расположенная между его ног, рассказывает, что Сфинкс явился во сне к Тутмосису IV, который тогда ещё был простым принцем-преемником, который во время некой охоты уснул в тени Большого Сфинкса, и тот повелел ему удалить песок, который покрывал этого Сфинкса, пообещав взамен поддерживать принца и оказать ему помощь во всём, чего он хочет - в становлении царём.

"Сын мой Тутмосис" - сказал он ему, - "я твой отец Гармакес Хефрен Атум, я даю тебк царстыо... - довольно чтобы ты сделал то, чего желает моё сердце".

6. Гор, сын Исиды - в главе, посвящённой Исиде, мы уже видели, как эта богиня зачала и родила самостоятельно, без участия её супруга или любовника, сына, поместив его тем самым в Осирическое семейство, и каким образом популярность матери и сына постоянно возростала, а параллельно с ней росла и популярность Доброго. А вскоре Гор-са-Исет (Hor-sa-Iset, то есть "Гор, сын Исиды") первоначально мелкий бог-сокол в окрестностях Буто, которого именовали Гором Младшим, дабы отличать его от могущественного небесного бога Гора Старшего, в конце концов затмил всех остальных Горов, переняв все их образы, роли и символы, и став самым главным из них. В мифе Осириса упоминается рождение его посмертного позднего сына, которого Исида зачала от Осириса после того, как она магическими средствами оживила убитого бога, на плавучем острове Хеммин, близ Буто. Пока Гор был ещё ребёнком, его именовали Гарпократом (ο Αρποκράτης, это грецизированная форма древнеегипетского имени Hor-pa-kherd, "Гор ребёнок"). В этой своей ипостаси он изображается как очень маленький ребёнок, обнажённый или украшенный лишь украшениями, с побритой головой, с одним лишь детским локоном, который собирается на виске. На многих изображениях он предстаёт сидящим на коленях своей матери, дающей ему свой сосок, чтобы он пил её молоко. Почти на всех изображениях он обсасывает свой палец, как делают младенцы, что древние греки восприняли как призыв к соблюдению тайны и обдумыванию, и поэтому в новейшее время он стал восприниматься как бог молчания. Во избежание злодейств Сета, Гора взрастили в пустыне - этого болезненного сына Исиды, который спасся от своих наследственных болезней (а также как и от остальных опасностей, таких, как звери, укусы скорпионов, пожары, детские болезни (такие болезни известны по магическим заклинаниям магов-изгонителей болезней в соответствующих обстоятельствах, во излечение их клиентов)) лишь благодаря сильной магии своей матери.

Пока маленький Гор рос, Осирис часто являлся к нему, чтобы обучать его военному искусству, чтобы подготовить его к нападению на Сета, чтобы забрать у него своё наследство, отнятое им, и отомстить за гибель его отца - деяния, прославившие его под эпонимами Гарендотес (Αρενδοτης, от Hor-nedj-itef, то есть "Гор, (от)мститель за своего отца"). Военные действия юного Гора против убийцы Осириса изображались в настенной живописи храма Эдфу (сделанной в новейшие времена Древнего Египта), великий бог которого, Бехедети, был уже отождествлён с Гором, сыном Исиды, тогда как сет был отождествлён с Апопом (ο Άπωφις), вечным врагом Солнца в ту эпоху, когда эти настенные рисунки были прочерчены. На большой серии из рельефов он изображается под именем Гартомес (то есть "Гор с копьём"), поскольку он протыкал своим копьём своих врагов, а его сторонники разрывали всех сторонников Сета, которые тщетно пытались спастись в телах крокодилов, гиппопотамов, антилоп и иных тифонических животных. Чтобы завершить эту уже затянувшуюся многолетнюю войну, боги привели двух противников на своё судилище. Сет заявил, что его племянник Гор не был сыном Осириса, но подложным ребёнком. Однако Гор доказал неопровержимыми фактами законность своего рождения, и боги, осудив обокравшего его, на то, чтобы он вернул всё отнятое, объявили Гора правителем обеих частей Египта. Таким образом возникли эпитеты Hor-sma-taoui ("Гор, объединивший две страны") и Hor-pa-neb-taoui ("Гор, правитель двух стран"). Затем Гор вновь вернул в Египет культ Осириса и солнечных богов, построил храмы, где по его приказу, они изображались в обликах, которые они приняли в ходе его борьбы против сторонников Сета, его бескомпромиссного врага. После этого он мирно правил в Египте и навсегда остался национальным богом Египта, предком фараона, каждого из которых именовали титулом "живой Гор". Его почитал весь Египет, вместе с его отцом Осирисом и с матерью Исидой в составе триады, Гор также изображается в триадах множества святилищ либо как вождь, либо как царский супруг, либо как мальчик-бог.

Таким образом Гор почитался как великий бог в Эдфу и Комбо, с супругой Хатхор. В Дендерах, напротив, главой, несомненно, была Хатхор, тогда как Гор был гостем, имевшим преимущество быть супругом царицы. На изображениях храмов вплоть до Нового царства, он изображался действующим совместно с Сетом в событиях наподобие коронации царя, очищающим его, и вводящим его в храм, или в ходе символического обряда Sma-taoui. Позднее место Сета в аналогичных изображениях получил Тот. На иных древних сценах Тот сражается с Сетом и его сторонниками, оплакивает Осириса и предоставляет ему погребальные почести, или в Ином мире он заботится, чтобы умершие прибыли к Доброму, и нередко наблюдает за взвешиванием душ умерших.

Солнце - у древних египтян с Солнцем ассоциировались разные боги. Атон это солнечный диск, Ра - Солнце в зените, Хепри - восходящее Солнце, Атум - заходящее Солнце. Гор - тоже одно из имён Солнца. Ра-Гор-Ахи - имя Солнца, ежеутренне рождающегося от небесной коровы в образе молочного телёнка, в качестве сына богини Неба. Солнце - это сокол с многоцветными крыльями, преодолевающее весь космос, либо - лишь правый глаз этого сокола. По другой версии мифа Солнце - это яйцо, периодически порождаемое божественной уткой, либо оно - скарабей, перекатывающий горящий солнечный шар.
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Мой девиз: один против всех, и всем несдобровать...


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Хат(х)ор или Ат(х)ор (Hathor, Hathyr, Athor, Athyr) - так именовалось великая египетская богиня, которую древние греки отождествляли с Афродитой. Эта небесная богиня считалась дочерью Ра и супругой Гора, либо матерью последнего. Её имя объясняется как "обилище Гора", поскольку этот солнечный бог каждый вечер вступает в её лоно, чтобы возродиться на другой день. О Хатхор книги гласят, что она была великой небесной коровой, которая сотворила мир и всё в нём, включая даже Солнце. Она изображалась в облике коровы, своего священного животного, либо с головой коровы, либо, чаще, с волосами разделёнными на длинные локоны, имея лишь рога и (вариант перевода: или) уши коровы. Фетиш, в который Хатхор вселяется, и который её выражает, это систрон (το σείστρον) - музыкальный орган, который изгоняет злые духи. Поэтому, чтобы почтить Хатхор, архитекторы Дендерах планировал колонны её храма в виде равночисленных гигантских систронов. Богиня женщин и красоты, Хатхор обрела большую популярность как богиня радости и любви. Её именовали "царицей весёлого настроения и танцев", "царицей музыки и песни", а храм богини считался "местом опьянения (пьяного состояния) и благостного проживания (хорошей жизни)".

Как богиня живых, Хатхор питала их своим молоком. На изображениях она, в облике женщины, держала царя в своих объятиях или на своих колееях, при этом, предлагая ему свой сосец, она кормила его своим молоком, либо она изображалась в облике коровы, молоко которой пил фараон из её сосцов. Она была полна милости и доброты в поведении как к живым, так и к мёртвым. Под эпонимом "Царица Запада" она считалась покровительницей фиванского некрополя, а на изображениях "Книги мёртвых" она предстаёт как корова с половиной тела выглядывающей из-за Ливийской горы - которая считалась последней границей Мира живых с Миром мёртвых, готовой принять умерших, которые прибывали в Мир иной перенося их на своей спине, дабы защитить от любых угроз тех, кто знали как призвать её известными заклинаниями. Под именем "Владычицы сикоморы" (Δεσποινα συκομορεας) верили, что она скрывается в листве этого великого огромного дерева на окраине пустыни, где она ожидала умершего, чтобы приветствовать его угощением водой и хлебом, встречая его таким образом по его прибытии в Мир иной. Также говорили, что она держала в руках большую лестницу, по которой праведники восходили на небо. Со временем она обрела качества подземной (хтонической) богини, и умиравшие женщины именовались не "Осирисом", а "Хатхор" (Хатхор такая-то). Её величайшее святилище находится в Дендерах, где её почитали вместе с её супругом, Гором из Эдфу, имевшим тут второе место, после Хатхор, и вместе с их сыном Ихи (Ιχι, Ihi, Ehi - "играющий на систроне"), которого изобрвжали в виде маленького мальчика, играющего на систроне рядом со своей матерью. В каждый первый день года, в день его (вариант перевода: её) рождения, Хатхор чтили самым великим праздником храма. Рано утром, ещё до восхода, жрецы откладывали её изображение на крышу, и устанавливали её на солнце, чтобы показать Хатхор восходящему Солнцу. Следовали изъявления радости, которые оканчивали танцы и песни, как на карнавалах, и день завершался песнями и пьянкой. Её чтили и в Эдфу совместно с Гором, который там занимал первое место, и там их почитали вместе с их сыном Гором-сма-тауи (Hor-sma-taoui). В Комбо она тоже почиталась, и изображалась в обеих триадах святилища. На берегах Сомали (принадлежавших Египту) её именовали "Хозяйкой страны Пунт" (Δεσποινα της χωρας Pount), на Синайском полуострове - "Хозяйкой страны Mafkat", и "Хозяйкой Библа" - в Финикии.

Анубис (Ανουβις) - это греческая форма написания древнеегипетского имени Inpou (Anpou). Он отождествлялся древними греками с Гермесом Психопомпом, открывавшим умершим путь в Мир иной. Он изображался как чёрный шакал с толстым хвостом, либо как брюнет-мужчина с голрвой шакала или собаки, священных животных Анубиса, из-за чего греки дали священному городу-митрополии, посвящённому его культу, имя Кинополь. Уже из первых династий он был главным жействующим лицом при мумификациях, и поэтому посмертные молитвы обращались тогда почти исключительно к нему.

В "Текстах Пирамид" Анубис характеризуется как "четвёртый сын Ра", и его дочерью была Oebehout, "богиня-роса" (θεα-δροσος). Позднее он вошёл в Осирическое семейство род тем предлогом, что Нефтида, которая не могла родить от своего супруга Сета, родила его в блуде от своего брата Осириса, и сразу вслед затем она бросила его, но его подобрала его тётя Исида, которая, не удержав никакой злой мысли за измену своего супруга, взялась взрастить его. Когда он возмужал, он стал сопровождать Осириса в его походах ради покорения мира, и когда Добрый был убит, Анубис по приказу Ра оказал помощь Исиде и Нефтиде погрести его. Именно тогда Анубис изобрёл погребальные ритуалы, и предпринял запеленание мумии Осириса, и её охрану от воздуха, дабы воспрепятствовать её тлению. По этой причине он и был прозван "Господином бинтов".

С тех пор он является первым при погребениях, принимаю мумию в склепе, и играет главную роль при мумификации мумий умерших, он ложит её затем в гробницу вместе с приношениями от наследников. Затем он изображается берущим умершего за руку, как швейцар царства Осириса, и ведёт его к высшему судье, где перед ним происходила Психостасия. Культ Анубиса как бога умерших стал повсеместным, и его вступление в Осирический миф возрастил количество его последователей, которые оставались до новейших времён, когда он был отождествлён с Гермесом Психопомпом, и был назван Германубисом (Ερμανουβις). Согласно Апулею, на большой службе в честь Исиды, бог с головой собаки держал керикейон и финиковые пальмы, и шёл впереди, перед божественными изображениями.

Офоис (Οφοις) - греческое написание древнеегипетского имени Oupouaout (Ouapouaitou, Apherou). Это бог с головой волка или шакала, которого не следует путать с Анубисом. Выражение Oup Ouaout означает "тот, кто открывает двери". На доисторических рельефах мы видим бога-волка вверху на своей эмблеме ведущего воинов племени во вражескую страну, как например на "главной службе Офоиса", ведущего шествие Осирических праздников, на большом щите. Он изображён ведущим лодку Солнца в её ночном путешествии, либо влачащим её к южным либо северным небесам (по Северному или Южному Небу). Это древний военный бог, а также бог умерших, главным образом в Абидосе, где, прежде чем его оттеснил Осирис, он был владыкой некрополя под эпонимом Хент Аменти (Χεντ Αμεντι, Khent Amenti, то есть "тот, кто руководит Западом"). Это местный бог Сиута (Siout), древнегреческого Ликополя. Офоис поздно вступил в Осирический миф как союзник Осириса, и вместе с Анубисом он был одним из главных помощников в походе Осириса ради покорения мира, и по этой причине в более поздние (то есть в более новые) времена оба этих бога изображались в военной форме.

Тот (Θωθ, Thot, Thout, Thoth) - это форма, которую в Греко-римский период приняло имя бога Джехути (Djehouti, Zahouiti, Dhouit), которого древние греки отождествляли с вестником богов, небесным послом Гермесом. Весь Египет почитал его как лунного бога, ответственного за письменность и науки, за изобретения и мудрость, озвучивателя желаний (φερέφωνο) богов и их архивариуса. Имя Джехути, очевидно, означает "из Джехута (Djejehout)", древнего нома в Нижнем Египте, с городом Гермополь Малый - очевидно, колыбели культа Тота во времена ещё прежде того, как Тот создал своё главное святилище в Гермополе Великом, в Верхнем Египте. Обычно он изображался как сова (вариант первого издания книги: как ибис), либо как мужчина с головой птицы ибис и над ней с лунным полумесяцем. Тоту нравилось самовыражаться в виде совы (вариант первого издания книги: вселяться в ибиса), либо человекообразной обезьяны, либо в обезьяну с головой собаки.

Из сказанного выше делается вывод, что этот бог вероятно происходит от слияния двух лунных божеств, символом одного из которых была птица, а другого - обезьяна. Теологи Гермуполя верили, что Тот был истиным творцом (=демиургом) мира, божественным ибисом, который выседел Мировое Яйцо в Гермуполе Великом, и в первый же раз (говорили те же теологи), когда он открыл свой рот, "в первый раз, когда он проснулся внутри Нуна", он материализовал облики четырёх богов и четырёх богинь через исходящий звук (первое издание греческого перевода этой книги: Тот создал лишь гласом своим, разверзнув свои уста, "в первый раз, когда он пробудился в Нуне", придал оболочку вышедшему из него звуку, создав тем самым четырёх богов и четырёх богинь), и поэтому будущий Гермополь получил имя Хмуну (Khmounou), то есть "Город восьми". Не имея никакой индивидуальной дичности эти восемь богов продолжили создание при помощи речи, а согласно книгам они продолжают делать это, напевая с утра до вечера (вариант первого перевода книги: утром и вечером) гимны на этой речи (вариант первого перевода книги: свои гимны) ради того, чтобы Солнце двигалось нормально, тем самым обеспечивая его нормальное движение.

В "Книгах пирамид" Тот является первородным сыном Ра, либо Геба и Нут, то есть в этом последнем случае он был братом Осириса, Исиды, Сета и Нефтиды. Как бы то ни было, он не играет заметной роли вне семейства Осириса, и он не должен быть чем-то иным кроме советника Доброго (=Осириса) и священным секретарём его царства. Он остался верным своему убитому господину, Осирису, и внёс большой вклад в его воскресение из мёртвых благодаря точности своего голоса, что усиливало эффект его колдовских чар и позволяло совершить идеальное очищение частей тела Осириса. Затем Тот защитил Исиду и помог ей защитить сироту Гора от нависавших над ним угроз - например, когда некий скорпион укусил Гора, Тот, по божественному указу (вариант первого перевода книги: по велению богов), изъял яд из детского тела. После этого Тот принял участие в борьбе между Гором и Сетом, и он своей слюной излечил выбитый глаз первого, а также оскопление второго (вариант первого перевода книги: летая над их ранами, Тор излечил потерю глаза Гора, и потерю оплодотворяющей функции Сета).

Когда боги позвали на свой суд непримиримых врагов, Гора и Сета (вариант первого перевода книги: когда отказывавшие уступить друг другу Сет и Гор предстали перед судом богов, который заседал в Гелиополе), то Тот разделил двух противников, и осудил Сета, чтобы он вернул своему племяннику всё, что он у него забрал, и поэтому Тот был назван Упу-рехуи (Ουπου-ρεχούι, Oupou-rehoui), то есть "тот, который судит двух противников". Сперва Тот был правителем (вариант первого перевода книги: советником) при Осирисе, затем он стал правителем при Горе, а когда Гор покинул Эксуох (Εξουοχ) (вариант первого перевода книги: а когда Гор оставил власть), то Тот сам принял трон живых и стал образцом мирного правителя, который правил 3.226 лет. Этот мудрейший бог (вариант: владеющий всей мудростью бог) открыл все искусства и науки: арифметику, топографию, географию, мантику, магию, медицину (врачевание), хирургию, музыку со струнными и с духовыми органами, планировку и, особенно, он изобрёл письмо, без которого человечеству угрожало забвение всех этих знаний и их преимуществ. Как изобретатель иероглифов, Тот был назван "Господином божественных речей (вариант: слов)" (Κύριος των θείων λόγων), а также Семсу (Σέμσου, Semsou), то есть "Старшим", как первый из магов, своих учеников, которые говорили, что они могли беспрепятственно входить в его убежище с магическими книгами, читать их и узнавать "фразы, которым подчиняются все силы природы и даже сами боги".

Этому его всесилию он обязан и именем Тот, что означает трижды очень великий, и которое древние греки переводили как Гермес Трисмегист. Когда после очень длительного управления Землёй Тот взошёл на Небо, он принял многие титулы: сперва он стал богом Луны или, вернее, богом-стражем и для Луны, поскольку эта звезда предстаёт как отдельное лицо под именем Аху (Άχου, Aah, lah, Aouhou, Jaouhou). Также богом Луны считался Хонсу. Согласно одному из мифов, Тот выиграл у Луны одну семьдесят-вторую часть её света, из которого он соорудил пять дополнительных (επαγόμενες) дней. В иных текстах говорится, что Луна это левое Око Гора, которое охраняет собакоголовая птица ибис (вариант первого перевода книги: собакоголовый или ибис), то есть Тот (при этом правым оком Гора считается Солнце). Напротив, в одной из глав "Книги мёртвых" говорится, что Ра отдал приказ Тоту занимать своё место на небе в те часы, когда тот сам освещал мёртвых, и затем сразу явилась Луна, и начала свои ночные маршруты на своей небесной лодке. В это время Луна ежемесячно подвергается нападениям различных чудовищ, которые пожирают, но после этого изрыгают её, поскольку к этому их принуждали её верные товарищи (вариант первого перевода книги: но тотчас выпускают её, вынуждаемые к этому её верующими поклонниками). В качестве лунного бога Тот стал мерилом времени, которое он разделил на месяцы, дав первому из них своё имя, а также на годы, которые он разделил на три сезона. В качестве определителя, Тот принял на себя обязанность проведения переписи и всех остальных рассчётов (вариант первого перевода книги: Тот - это великий улучшитель, загруженный всеми переписями (απογραφές) и подсчётами).

В Эдфу он изображался с книгой триады богов храма (вариант в первом переводе книги: В Эдфу Тот изображался представляющим триаде местного храма книгу), где записано всё, что касается географического разделения страны, перечисления её запасов (вариант первого перевода книги: с размерами и перечнем её доходов, будучи тем, кто принимает доходы), а в Deir-el-Bahari он изображается каталогизирующим сокровища (вариант: детально записывающим богатства), которые морская миссия привезла из страны Пунт (Pount) к богам Египта. Как архивариус (=заведующий архивами) богов, Тот также является историческим надзирателем, который определяет смену царей, через написание на листьях священного дерева Гелиополя имени будущего фараона, которого царица зачала от правителя Неба (Господина Небес), а также Тот записывал на длинных стеблях плодов финиковой пальмы (βλαστών φοίνικα) время счастливого правления, которое бог соблаговолил даровать царю. Он также был вестником богов, которые зачастую использовали его как писца: "Ра сказал это, а Тот записал" - говорили они. В одном изображении ужасающей Психостасии, Тот, проверив взвешивание сердца и убедившись в его безвинности, зачитывает громко оправдывающее решение, которое он только что внёс в свои таблички. Он был доверенным судьёй богов, которому они доверяют, и он подтвердил это тем, что он оправдал Гора и осудил Сета. По этой причине по-крайней мере с эпохи Нового царства Тот заменяет этого павшего бога в случаях коронации и возлияний, производившихся в его честь, как например в ходе символического ритуала Sma taoui. В текстах он нередко упоминается имеющим своей парой богиню Ма (Маат) (Maat), богиню Истины и Справедливости, но ни в одном храме их нельзя встретить почитающимися вместе. Напротив, говорили что у него было две другие пары, Сешет и Нехмауит (Νεχμαουίτ, Nehmaouit, «та, которая вырывает (или искореняет) зло»). С ними он сформировал две триады в Гермуполе. В первой из этих триад богом-сыном был Хорнуб (Χορνούμπ, Hornoub), а во второй - Нефер-Гор (Νεφερ-Ώρος, Nefer Hor). Согласно Плутарху, главный праздник бога с головой ибиса вершился 19 числа месяца Тот (Θωθ), немного дней после Полнолуния, в начале года. Тогда люди обменивались приветствием: "Сладка правда", и делились друг с другом (вариант перевода в первом издании книги: приготавливали) множеством сладостей, мёдом, инжиром и др.

Сешет, Сафехт, Сефехт или Сешат (Seshet, Sefekht, Safekht) - это главная супруга Тота, богиня письма и истории. Первоначально она изображалась как женщина, имевшая на голове звезду внутри перевёрнутого полумесяца, с двумя ровными и большими крыльями - идеограммой её имени, означающего "секретарь" («писец»). Позднее, очевидно, из-за некоего непонимания скульпторов, полумесяц был заменён двумя большими, выпуклыми кверху (вариант первого перевода книги: вниз) рогами, и с этого момента у неё возник эпоним Сафехт-абуи (Σαφέχτ-αμπούι, Safekht-aboui, то есть "та, которая имеет два рога", или, быть может, "та, у которой выходит два рога").

Звёздное божество, она служила при отсчёте времени, и считалась, совместно с Тотом, изобретателем письма, в связи с чем она получила имя "Хозяйка дома книг" (Δέσποινα του οίκου των βιβλίων) или "Хозяйкой дома архитекторов" (Δέσποινα του οίκου των αρχιτεκτόνων), поскольку она изображалась будто бы строящей храмы (то есть как основательница храмов), помогающей царю выяснить ось построения нового святилища, согласно позиции звёзд, а также позиции, которую занимали четыре угла в постройке через размещение четырёх балок. Богиня истории и архивариус богов, она изображалась сама, либо совместно со своим супругом Тотом, пишущей имена фараонов на листьях священного дерева Гелиополя, либо отмечающей на длинном листе финиковой пальмы годы, отведённые для царствования, предоставленные богами фараону. Таким образом, при возможности, она держала архивы о праздновании юбилея (вариант в первом переводе книги: таким образом, она изображалась по возможности составляющей эти протоколы праздников царских юбилеев (ιωβιλαίον). Госпожа писцов, она заносила на таблички доход от трофеев, которые царь отнимал у своих врагов. При возвращении в Фивы после экспедиции, отправленной царицей XVIII династии Хатшепсут в страну Пунт, Сешет описала (вариант: произвела учёт) сокровища, которые привезли оттуда: "Бог записал количества (вариант первого перевода книги: Тот записал числа), Сешет проверила рассчёт (вариант: счёт (ο λογαριασμός))".


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[Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Πάπυρος-Λαρούς-Μπριτάννικα]

Тефнут (Τεφνούτ) - египетская богиня, которая вместе со своим братом-близнецом Шу представляла из себя первую супружескую пару Гелиопольской Эннеады. Возможно, она символизировала сырость. Также вероятно, что Шу и Тефнут представляли из себя два проявления вечности. Зачастую они изображались как два льва, мужского и женского пола.

(Αρχείο Πάπυρος)

Гор (Ώρος, египетск. Hor) (религиеведение) - небесный бог древних египтян в виде сокола, глаза которого были Солнцем и Луной. Тем самым, сокол был священной птицей Гора, и имя Гора как правило писали в виде иероглифа в форме этой птицы. Исходя, вероятно, из Дельты Нила, культ Гора распространился в Доисторический период по всему Египту. Таким образом появились многочисленные боги-соколы, в особенности в городе Нехен (Νεχέν), который древние греки именовали Гиераконполем (то есть городом сокола), и который был столицей царства Верхнего Египта до того, как Египет был объединён, и место расположение которого было место напротив от современного города Al Kab. В также в Эдфу (Εντφού) (египетск. Бехдет (Behdet)), где Гор под именем Бехдетский получил форму крылатого солнечного диска. В Нехене родилась идея, что царь был воплощением Гора и, посколтку Египет был объединён царями Нехена, эта идея была воспринята в целом страной. Первым из пяти имён египетского царя было имя Гор, то есть то, которое отождествляло его с Гором.

С богом Сетом (Σηθ, Setekh) из Комбоса (Όμβος) в Верхнем Египте Гор жил мирно в годы правления первых династий, как соучастник в общем воплощении царя: Сет оставался представителем Верхнего Египта, тогда как Гор представлял Нижний Египет. Не позднее конца V династии, однако (это около 2.425 г. до н. э.) культ Осириса распространился в Египте, а Гор вошёл в цикл Осириса. Посколтку почивший царь отождествлялся до тех пор с Осирисом, а живой и правящий являлся воплощением Гора, то Гор стал сыном Осириса и Исиды - его сестры и законной супруги. В этом качестве он отныне стал противником Сета, убийцы Осириса и противника Гора в споре за наследство Осириса и за царский трон Египтв. Согласно мифу Гор победил Сета, отомстив тем самым за своего отца, и принял власть в стране. В ходе столкновения его левый Глаз (то есть Луна) был уничтожен - это мифологическое объяснение смены лунных фаз -, но он был излечён богом Тотом. Изображение восстановленного Ока Гора (udjat) стало сильным талисманом. После битвы Гор оплакал Осириса и руководил погребальными церемониями.


Иллбстрация Архива Британника: Гор, делающий приношкние (Луврский Музей, Париж).


В более поздние годы Гор предстал как местный бог во множестве регионов, и под множеством имён и эпитетов: Гармахис (Αρμάχις, Har-em-akhet, то есть "Гор-на-горизонте"), Гарпократ (Αρποκράτης, Har-pe-Khrad, то есть "Гор-ребёнок"), Гарсиесис (Αρσίεσις, Har-si-Ese, то есть "Гор, сын Исиды"), в Ком Обо его чтили под именем Ароириса (Αροίρις, Har-wer, то есть "Гор Старший", противопоставляя его "Гору-ребёнку"). В Деедерах его почитали как "Гора, объединителя Двух Стран" и как Горендота (Αρενδότης), то есть "Гора, защитника своего отца". Древние греки отождествили Гора с Аполлоном, а Эдфу они назвали Аполленополем (Απολλενόπολις) во время Греко-римского периода. Гор, пронзивший своего врага Сета, преображённого в крокодила, являлся могущественным магическим образом, и видится, что он был использован как образец фигуры святого Георгия, убивающего дракона.

(Britannica)
_________________
Мой девиз: один против всех, и всем несдобровать...


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Феликс Гюйран (продолжение его книги):

БОЖЕСТВА ПОКРОВИТЕЛИ ФАРАОНА И ЦАРСТВА

В предыдущих главах велась речь о множестве богов, которые получали особое благодействие от фараонов, и они считались их божественными предками, как например Сет, бывший господин Верхнего Египта, которого позже извлекли из Древнеегипетского пантеона, Гор, которого все фараоны утверждали что олицетворяли, и Ра, которого каждый фараон начиная с V династии считал своим отцом. Ниже мы упомянем некоторых других богов, в хронологическом порядке, и аналогично значению, которое он имел для древнеегипетских царских династий.

Нехбет (Νεχμπέτ, Nekhebet, Nekhebt, Nekhubit) - древние греки отождествляли её с Эйлитией, богиней родов. Это была древняя богиня, покровительница Верхнего Египта, с центром её культа здесь же, в городе El kab или Nekheb, который древние греки называли Эйлитиополем (Ειλειθυιόπολη), это была столица древнейшего царства юга. Обычно она изображалась в виде грифа, который держит в своих когтях печать и волосяную хлопушку для отгона мух, летящей над головой фараона (последнее - на табличках, либо в военных изображениях, либо в сценах с принесением жертв). В иных случаях она предстаёт в облике божества с лысой головой грифа, либо женщины одевающей корону Верхнего Египта на своей голове или над её волосом, имеющим форму грифа. Как богиня-мать, Нехбет, как считалось, кормила грудью детей царской династии или будущих фараонов, либо даже самого фараона.


Изображение 8: боги Гор Нижнего Египта слева и Сет Верхнего Египта справа, связывают узлами растения Севера и Юга вокруг символа объединения, который служит опорой орцжия фараона Сесостриса (Sesostris) I.


Буто (Βουτώ) - это греческое написание египетского Per Ouadjet ("обилище Ouadjet"), как древние греки именовали один из горрдов в Дельте Нила, а также богиню Ouadjet (или Ouazait), старую покровительницу Нижнего Египта. Владычица Дельты, Буто заинтересовалась, согласно Осирическому мифу, Исидой, которой оказала помощь чтобы спасти её новорожденного ребёнка Гора, приняв младенца на плавучий остррв Хеммин (Χέμμιν), и по этой причине позднее она была отождествлена древними греками с матерью Аполлона, Лето. Богиня-змея, она изображается в образе кобры, с крыльями или без, в некоторых случаях имея коррну, либо как женщина, имеющая на голове или в своих волосах имитацию в виде грифа, с красной короной покровительствуемого ей Севера - подобно тому, как Нехбет имела белую корону Юга. Богиня-гриф и богиня-кобра с общим именем Небти (Νέμπτι, Nebti - "две девушки" ("οι δύο δέσποινες")) были написаны одна за другой в фараоновском протоколе. Некогда они изображались украшающими лоб царя, показатель, что они защищали его от любого врага. Зачастую Буто, а не василиск, изображалась на лбу Ра, в знак того, что она защищает его от любого врага.

Монт или Менту (Μέντου, Mentou, Mont) - военный бог в районе Фив, которого древние греки отождествляли с Аполлоном. Менту появился в начале Среднего царства, и его особенно почитали цари XI-й династии, многие из которых носили имя Ментухотеп (Mentouhotep, "Менту доволен"). Его изображали как мужчину с головой сокола, который над собой имел солнечный диск с двумя ровными крыльями. В новейшее время его изображали как мужчину, имевшего голову быка, и с его двумя указанными выше ровными знаками (то есть солнечным диском с ровными крыльями) над ним. Бык был священным животным этого бога, и самым его любимым священным быком был великий Бухис (ο Βούχις, Boukhis), которого с благочествием кормили в Гермонтиде (η Ερμονθίδα), месте пребывания Солнца, в старой столице Верхнего Египта, где Менту, бог солнечный, много векрв был главой и хозяином, прежде чем его вытеснил во второй ряд богов его бывший подчинённый, Аммон Фиванский, который эволюционировал в царя богов. Аммон, жена которого была бездетна, сумел усыновить Менту, и поместить его в Фиванскую триаду в качестве бога-сына, после того, как он уже отнял его власть. Однако поскольку бывший владыка этих мест не был доволен такой второстепенной ролью для себя, он предпочёл уединиться в Гермонтиде, где он остался бесспорным владыкой, а также в Медамуде (το Μενταμούντ, Medamoud), куда сбегались массы верующих, чтобы почтить его и его супругу Рат-тауи ("(она) Ра Обеих Стран). Солнечный бог, имевший воинственный характер, Менту изображался при Новом царстве как бог войны, движущий "хопеш" (το χοπές, Khopesh) - разновидность очень вогнутой πάλας, которой он отрубает головы врагов фараона, которому он затем отдаёт своё непобедимое оружие и закованных в железные кандалы народы, которые он подчинил. На многих рельефах храмов, Менту как солнечный бог Юга, и Атум, как солнечный бог Севера, сопровождают царя в тот момент, когда он входит в храм.

Аммон (Άμμων, Amon, Amoun, Amen) – это имя великого египетского божеста, которое характеризовали как «царя богов», которое древние греки на деле отождествляли с Зевсом. Во времена Древней империи он был неизвестен, поскольку его имя вероятно происходило от корня, обозначавшего «сокрытый», и оно упоминается не более чем четыре раза в гелиопольских «Текстах пирамид». Этот бог изначально принадлежал к космогонической системе Гермополя, как один из Восьмёрки богов Гермополя, изошедших изо рта Тота. В ту эпоху в его честь должны были возвести колоссальных размеров храмы в Фивах Верхнего Египта, митрополией которых был город Гермонтида, город бога Мента – главного бога всей этой местности. Тогда ещё Фивы были незначительным городком в 4-м номе Египта, столицей которого тогда была Гермонтида, главный город всего региона. Однако со времён первого царя XII династии, Аменемхета (Amenemhat), что означает «Аммон идёт впереди», Фивы и их бог начали обретать большее значение, и при правлении великих фараонов-завоевателей времён XVIII династии, которые гордо говорили, что они были сыновьями Аммона, их значение особенно возвысилось. В ту эпоху Аммон лишил Менту его феода, превзойдя его, и стал величайшим божеством во всей стране (Египте) и в Фивах, которые стали именоваться Нут Аммон (Νουτ Αμμων, Nout Amon), то есть «город Аммона», либо просто Нут («город», то есть просто город), была размещена столица Египта.

Аммон зачастую изображается с человеческой головой и с обожжённым солнцем лицом, имеющим вместо причёски своего рода ступой, из которой росли два больших параллельных крыла. Иногда он изображается величественно восседающим на своём троне, а иногда стоящим на ногах и держащим кнут над своей головой в позе бога Мина со стоящим фаллосом (ο ιθυφαλλικός θεός). Также мы его видим с головой барана, с выгнутыми вниз рогами - это животное является олицетворением Аммона (один хранившихся жрецами из баранов читлся живым воплощением души Аммона), либо в виде гуся, ещё одного священного животного Аммона, которого жрецы благовейно кормили в Карнаке. Аммон с приподнятым членом являлся силой творческой и производительной, и имел эпитет "супруг своей матери". Считалось, что он вечно сохранял жизнь во Вселенной. Также он был богом плодородия, и в таком случае фараон изображался перед ним сеющим и жнущим первые колосья. Он был покровителем самых могущественных фараонов, которые считали его своим отцом, и которым он даровал победу надо всеми их врагами. То есть, этот фиванский бог стал главнейшим национальным богом египтян. Его поклонники провозгласили его "царём богов" под именем Аммон-Ра, и его хвалители отождествляли его с Ра, прежним солнечным богом, которого он заменил как творец мира и вождь Великой Девятки Гелиополя. Теологи, почти льстя, отождествляли Аммона и Ра. С этого момента и далее Аммон-Ра стал изображаться на царских гробницах сидящим на солнечной лодке, и освещающим мёртвых в ходе двенадцати часов ночи. Несмотря на это, Ра никогда не потерял старые царские права, и он под именем Ра-Гор-Ахти почитался одновременно с Аммоном-Ра, и совершенно отдельно от него. Жрецы Гелиополя, конечно, ненавидившие огромный успех Аммона (завидовавшие славе и достижениям Аммона), и несоглашавшиеся, чтобы "новоявленный" бог обладал всесилием, немедленно после смерти Аменхотепа III (Αμένοφι Γ'), несомненно возглавили направленную против Аммона реакцию. Книжные гимны в честь Аменхотепа III, а также рельефы храма в Луксоре воспевали божественное рождение царя, которое было результатом любовных похождений бога Фив Аммона и царицы-матери, супруги Тутмосиса IV.

Под уже тогда древним своим именем "Атон дня", то есть "солнечный диск, от которого порождается свет дня" (это был видимый облик и истинное имя бога), мы видим Ра-Гор-Ахти принимающим, после указанной выше реакции жречества, новое значение, и начинающим борьбу против своего соперника, который немного лет спустя утратил своё значение в сравнении с Ра. Это произошло на четвёртый год правления сына и наследника Аменхотепа III, во время его великой религиозной реформы. Он испытывал религиозную ревность в пользу его нового бога Атона (провозглашённого им единственным истинным богом), поменяв в честь него своё имя Аменхотеп ("Аммон доволен") на Эхнатон или Ахенатон ("слава Атона"). Он покинул Фивы и обосновался в новой столице - городе Ахетатон или Ихутатон (Ιχουτατών - "горизонт Атона"), ныне именуемой Телль-эль-Амарна (Tell el Amarna), которую он основал в центре Египта, чтобы прославить небесный диск. Статуй Атона не существует. Лишь на рельефах и на рисунках он виден в облике большого красного диска, откуда излучаются длинные лучи, которые завершаются на руках, которые берут с алтарей приношения, либо дают их царю, царице и их дочерям в виде иероглифов жизни и силы. Его культ с единственным жрецом в виде фараона производился в храме, который был похож на прежние храмы Солнца Древнего царства, и он был назван, как и храм в Гелиополе, знаменитым храмом Ра, Хет-Бенбеном (Χετ Μπενμπέν, Het Benben - "башня обелиска"). На краю его широкого двора возвышался обелиск Солнца. Культ Атона состоял из поднесения плодов и сладостей, вместе со чтением прекраснейших гимнов, которые составил сам царь, чтобы почтить своего бога и Солнце, творца-демиурга человечества, мирового творца и добродетель мира.

Но в этих гимнах уже не упоминалось и намёков о мифологических традициях, которые рвнее были многочисленны в гимнах посвящённых Ра. Таким образом не только жители долины Нила, но и иностранцы легко могли их петь. Проповедовалось в этих мифах то, что все люди были равными детьми Атона, предполагая подобной умеренной попыткой в пользу монотеизма, что существовал план о создании Общеимперской религии в том смысле, что в ту эпоху Египетское царство достигало Азии, где поклонялись Адонису сирийцу и Адонаи еврей. Все годы жизни фараона Эхнатона, в Египте не было иного официального божества, кроме Атона, потому что когда все другие боги были изгнаны, началась неожиданная война против Аммона и его триады, были оголены от своих сокровищ его храмы, чтобы усилить храмы Солнечного Диска, были уничтожены статуи Аммона, сломаны его рельефы, а сам он был отправлен в самые недоступные места; его имя было стёрто из имён царей, и в том числе Аменофиса III, отца Эхнатона. Новая религия была временной, и сразу после смерти фараона-реформатора, его сын вернул культ Аммона, и даже отрёкся от данного ему отцом имени, как от еретического, и превратил его из имени Тутанхатон (Toutankh Aton, «живой образ Атона») в ортодоксальное Тутанхмамон (Toutankh Amon, «живой образ Аммона»). Разумеется, что он заменил старое имя новым, но это было сделано не везде, так, что в обнаруженной недавно величественной гробнице молодого фараона мы читаем, почти рядом друг с другом, оба этих имени, подтверждающих и существование ереси, и измену ей принца, ставшего фараоном. Прежняя слава Аммона была восстановлена Хоремхебом (Horekheb) и царями XIX династии, которые наполнили его храмы дарами, тогда как Аммон был объединён с Ра, и обретал имущество, равное трём четвёртым имущества всех остальных египетских богов вместе взятых. Перепись, сделанная при Рамзесе III доказывает, что Аммон обладал 81.322 рабами и 421.362 животными. Великие жрецы и первые прорицатели Аммона вскоре сделали свою службу наследственной, и, поскольку они также занимали дворцовые посты при слабых царях XX династии, они сами захватили царскую власть во-главе с Херихором (Heri Hor), преемником последнего Рамзеса. Последовавшие беспорядки привели к тому, что Фивы перестали быть местом пребывания царей и столицей Египта, и они остались лишь исключительным владением теократического государства, в котором бог вершил власть либо напрямую через предсказания, либо посредством уже не первого прорицателя, но своей земной супруги, «супруги бога» - как правило это была дочь царя Египта, которой надлежали высшие почести, и которая правила «городом» (Фивами) и бескрайними имениями своего бога-супруга.

Абсолютный господин Фив (греки именовали их Диосполем Великим), Аммон главенствовал и за пределами Египта, в Эфиопии, где в своих оракулах в городах Мероя и Напата он избирал местных царей, низлагал их, а также умерщвлял их - то есть он вершил тираническую власть, которая была отменена лишь в III веке до н. э., когда Эргамен(ес) разрушил иго жрецов и умертвил их. Аммон также главенствовал и среди племён Ливийской пустыни, тогда как многочисленные паломники посещали храм Аммона-Зевса, находившийся в оазисе Сива и в его знаменитый оракул, который посетил, наряду с другими, Александр Великий в 333 году до н. э., приветствованный тут Аммоном-Зевсом как «сын Зевса» (παις Διός). Однако величественные храмы Аммона, руины которых и поныне внушают восхищение, находились всегда в Фивах, на правом берегу Нила, в Луксоре и Карнаке, где его чтили вместе с его супругой Мут и их сыном Хонсу.

На рельефах на стенах и колоннах царь богов Аммон восседает на своём троне и принимает почитание от фараона, которого он зачастую обнимает и мечет ему са (σα (sa); так именовали некую магическую жидкость), либо даёт ему обонять точку жизни и дарит ему длительное царствование, либо протягивает ему «хопеш» (το «χοπές») от битв, передавая ему вражеские города, одновременно попирая проигравших. Наконец, он изображается держащим на своих коленях царицу, с которой он скрестится, чтобы породить будущего фараона.

Мут (Μουτ, Mout) - супруга Аммона-Ра. Древние греки отождествляли её с Герой - но она была неопределённой богиней, поскольку она изображалась в образе женщины с причёской в форме грифа, а идеограммой её имени был тяжёлый парик со знаком «пшент», то есть двойной короной, которую одевает супруга царя богов (вариант первого перевода книги: у Мут была на её изображениях причёска в форме грифа, который является идеограммой её имени, либо с париком пшент (то есть двойной короной), который она носит как супруга царя богов). Её имя означает «мать». По мере роста авторитета её супруга, росли и авторитет и почитание Мут. Когда Аммон под именем Аммон-Ра стал царём богов и величайшим небесным божеством, то это стало и с Мут, которая стала солярной богиней, которую отождествляли то с богиней Баст, то с богиней Сехмет. Мут изображалась в этой своей роли то с головой львицы, заимствованной у Баст, то с телом индюшки, заимствованным у Сехмет. Мут - небесная богиня, о которой говорили, что она стояла в облике коровы позади Аммона (вариант первого перевода книги: шла в облике коровы позади Аммона), когда тот выпрыгнул из вод и вышел из Мирового яйца в Гермуполе. Тогда

«Аммон сел на её спину и схватил её за рога, и приземлился там, где заимел Хонсу, с которым они сформировали Фиванскую триаду во-главе с Аммоном».

Аммон и Мут сперва усыновили Монту, а затем Хонсу.

Хонсу (Χονσού, Khonsu, Khons) - его имя означает «ο ναυτίλος», «тот, кто плывёт на лодке по небу», «тот, кто пересекает небо на лодке». Очевидно, первоначально это был лунный бог, известный лишь в Фива, и удивляет, что в реки сопоставляли его с Гераклом (вариант первого перевода книги: неясно, почему греки отождествляли Хонсу с Гераклом). Он изображается как завёрнутый в ткани человек, как и Птах, чей сложный скипетр он держит, имея над головой диск внутри полумесяца. Голова Хонсу - вся бритая, кроме одного виска, на котором висит тяжёлый локон, как у древнеегипетских царевичей. Сперва малоизвестный, Хонсу вознёсся до ранга высших богов после того, как он был усыновлён Аммоном и Мут и принят в их триаду вместо Монту. Представляется, что лишь в эпоху Нового царства Хонсу обрёл славу бога-экзорциста (изгонителя злые духов) и лекаря, у которого находили излечение охваченные демонами и больные со всего Египта и даже из других стран. Последним Хонсу передавал свои лечебные способности через одну свою статую, которой он повелел доставлять излечение далеко, к тем, кто в этом нуждался. Таким образом появляется Великий Хонсу (Хонсу Неферхотеп (Neferhotep)) в Карнаке, к которому обращается с молитвой сирийский принц Бахтан (Bakhtan, Μπαχτάν), прося Бога излечить его дочь и об отправлении в Сирию другого Хонсу, именуемого «тот, кто осуществляет задуманное, и изгоняет демонов». Нам бы не хватило здесь места рассказать, как отправленный прогнал из тела принцессы демона, мучившего её, и как через 3 года и 9 месяцев этот бог предстал перед отцом принцессы во сне в виде золотого сокола, летящего над храмом в Сирии, где его поместили смотрящим в направлении Египта. После этого сна благодарный отец по полученному таким образом повелению Хонсу, через 45 месяцев после его прибытия отправил его лечебную статую обратно в Карнак вместе с огромными почестями и с богатыми дарами, которые он подарил храму Карнака, поднеся их к ногам статуи Хонсу Неферхотепа. Кроме Фив Хонсу почитался и в Омбосе (η Όμβος), где он имел третье место в триаде Собека как Хонсу Гор (Khonsou Hor, Χονσού Ωρος), изображавшийся мужчиной с головой сокола, над которым висел диск внутри полумесяца. Один игрок древнеегипетских месяцев именовался Pakhons, то есть «принадлежащий Хонсу».

Собек или Себек (Σούχος, Sebek, Sevek, Sobkou, Sovkou) - древние греки именовали его СУхосом. Это бог вод с головой крокодила. Он был одним из покровителей царя, и многие из царей XIII династии носили имя Себекхотеп («Себек доволен»). Он изображается либо как человек с головой крокодила, либо просто как крокодил. В соседнем озере с великим храмом жрецы кормили крокодила, именовавшегося Петесебеком (Πετεσούχος, Petesoukhos («тот, кто принадлежит Себеку»)), в тело которого согласно верованиям древних египтян вселился бог Себек. Мало известно о происхождении Себека. В одном из «Текстов пирамид» говорится, что он был сыном Нейт, однако более общепризнанным является то, что о нём пишет Масперо:

«соседство болота или быстрого потока среди скал внушило жителям Файюма и Омбоса, что крокодил был высшим божеством, которое они должны были умилостивлять жертвами и молитвами».

Для верующих Себек был творцом, который в день сотворения изошёл из тёмных вод, в которых он отдыхал

«чтобы упорядочить мир, подобно тому, как крокодил выходит из реки, чтобы выложить на берегу свои яйца».

Поскольку в египетском языке слово Себек созвучно имени Геб, древние египтяне приписывали первому из них титулы второго.

В Файюме Себек почитался особенно, как покровитель всего нома, а в древнем городе Шедет (η Σεντέτ, Shedet) - Крокодилополе («городе Крокодила») древних греков - находилось одно из его святилищ, о котором мы расскажем подробнее в главе о священных животных. Также его почитали в Верхнем Египте, и в древнем Омбосе сохранились руины храма, в котором этот бог и его триада почиталась с одинаковыми почестями с другой триадой, которую возглавлял Гор. Скорее всего Себек занимал место первого владыки в Омбосе, где благопочитание верующих Гора не позволяло ему принимать почести там, где пребывал его противник в этих местах. Несомненно, Себек зачастую обвинялся как союзник убийцы Осириса, поскольку египтяне верили, что Сет, чтобы избежать справедливого наказания, спрятался в теле крокодила, и поэтому данное животное, почитавшееся в некоторых номах, в других номах - уничтожалось.

Пта(х) или Фта(х) (ο Φθα, Ptah, Phtah) - бог-покровитель искусства, отождествлявшийся древними греками с богом Гефестом. Он изображался как мумия мужчины, стоявшая на пьедестале в храме, с узким платком на голове и с телом, обвёрнутым лентами, откуда высовывались руки со скипетром, состоящим из эмблем жизни, стабильности и всесилия.

Его почитали в Мемфисе, он с древних времён имел своё знаменитое святилище, известное как «святилище за стенами Птаха». Его значительная роль (Птах был главенствующим богом старой столицы на севере, где короновались цари) очень плохо известна ранее XIX династии, когда представлявшие её великие цари Сетхи (Sethi, Σέθωσις) I и Рамзес II, испытывавшие к нему сильное благоволение, поменяли это положение.

То же самое сделал и Сиптах (ο Σιφθά, Siptah) («сын Птаха»). Конечно, после смерти последнего Рамзеса, когда окончательно воспреобладала в политической жизни Дельта Нила, мемфисский бог стал очень могущественен - он стал третьим по богатству среди египетских богов после Аммона и Ра. Однако жрецы Птаха считали его первым в сотворении любого живого человека или предмета. Как покровитель мастеров и ремесленников, Птах считался изобретателем искусств, мастером в обработке металлов и строителем. Одной из его эмблем был локоть (одна из древних единиц измерения длины), а великий жрец Птаха в Мемфисе носил титул «великий главный мастер», и он руководил строителями при возведении храмов.

Сегодня не осталось ничего, кроме прекрасных руин от великого храма в Мемфисе, где жрецы заставили Геродота стоять восхищённым перед приношениями к Птаху, за совершённые им чудеса, поскольку говорилось, что этот бог спас Петруполь от нападения ассирийцев Сеннахериба, когда Птах направил армию мышей, которые разгрызли колчаны, тетивы луков и кожаные полосы на щитах ассирийцев. В этом храме Птах почитался вместе со своей супругой Сехмет (την Σάχμιν, Sekhmet) и их сыном Нефертумом (Nefertoum), который в новейшие времена уступил своё место богу-герою Имхотепу (τον Ιμούθιν). Рядом с храмом с благопочитанием кормили священного быка Аписа - живое воплощение Птаха, как считали древние египтяне (смотри в главе о священных животных). Хотя его называли «прекрасным», Птах на его изображениях был некрасивым карликом с кривыми ногами и огромной головой, обритой, оставив лишь один локон. Его самой красивой ипостасью должен бы считаться Птах-эмбрион, а не Птах-Патек (ο Φθα-Πάταικος). Это бог на изображениях является защитником ото всех вредных животных и ото всех болезней. В древние времена он был отождествлён с тёмным богом земли Тененом (Tenen), а также с Секером, о котором мы расскажем сразу ниже, и Птаха зачастую называли Птахом-Тененом, Птахом-Секером, а также Птахом-Сокар-Осирисом.

Сокар, Секер или Сокари (ο Σόκαρις, Sokar, Seker, Sokari) - в древнегреческом написании, это СОкар(ис). Изначально это был Бог растительности, а позднее он стал богом умерших в Мемфисском некрополе, где в облике зелёной мумии, с головой сокола, его почитали в знаменитом святилище Ро Стау (Ρο Στάου, Ro Staou) (букв. «двери коридора»), о котором верили, что оно коммуницировало с Нижним миром. Уже очень рано Сокар был отождествлён с Осирисом, который предоставлял ему всех своих здешних сторонников, а позднее его чтили в Мемфисе как великого бога умерших под именем Сокар-Осирис. В конечном счёте великое божество умерших в этом городе было названо Птах-Сокар-Осирис.

Сехмет или Сохмет (η Σάχμις, Sekhmet, Sokhit) - это богиня войны и столкновений, и обыкновенно она изображалась как львица или как женщина с головой львицы. Её имя, которое означает «могучая», является эпитетом богини Хатхор, и его дали этой великой небесной богине, когда она приняла облик львицы и напала на восставших против бога Ра людей с такой ревнительностью, что сам бог Солнца, испугавшись, что человеческий род прекратит своё существование, был вынужден попросить, чтобы она прекратила резню. Она ответила ему: «Клянусь своей жизнью, что когда я убиваю людей моё сердце наполняется радостью», и отвергла предложение бога Ра - с тех пор она стала изображаться в виде львицы, и была названа Сехмет. После этих её речей Ра, чтобы спасти последних людей, сделал следующее: он повелел бросить на место резни магический напиток (состоявший из пива и сока граната) из семи тысяч сосудов-гидрий. Жаждавшая напиться Сехмет, принявшая этот напиток за кровь людей, выпила его с такой жадностью, что опьянев она уже не могла продолжить резню, и человеческий род спасся. Однако Ра, чтобы ублажить богиню, решил, что «для неё будут в каждый первый день года изготовляться столько гидрий магического эликсира, сколько жриц имело Солнце» - и с тех пор это постоянно делалось на праздник Хатхор. Великая резня людей произошла в 12-й день первого зимнего месяца, и об этом дне календарь хороших и плохих дней гласил:

«Ужасным, ужасным, ужасным является 12-й день месяца Тиби ((Τυβί), смотри - не повстречай сегодня мышь, потому что в этот день Ра отдал приказ Сехмет».

Сехмет также называли «великой подругой Птаха», поскольку, будучи первоначально божеством города Лутрополя, она вошла в состав Мемфисской триады как супруга Птаха вместе с их сыном Нефертумом. С её культом связывалась и одна категория эмпирических врачей, которые лечили переломы через вмешательство этой богини.

Нефертум (ο Νεφερτούμ, Nefertoum, Nefretoum, Nofirtoumou) - это древний бог-сын Мемфисской триады. Древние греки отождествляли его с Прометеем - быть может потому, что его отцу Птаху (отождествлявшемуся ими с Гефестом) приписывали изобретение огня. Он изображался как мужчина с мечём «хопеш» («χοπές»), и с ярко цветущим лотосом на своей голове, или которого выпирал рогообразный черешок (ο μίσχος), либо как стоЯщий мужчина на лежащем льве, либо как человек со львиной головой - конечно, из-за его происхождения от богини-львицы Сехмет. Его имя означает «Атум-младший», и оно показывает, что этот бог первоначально выражал гелиопольского Атума, Атума однако обновлённого, выпрыгивающего утром из божественного лотоса, убежища Солнца в течении Ночи. Происходя из Нижнего Египта, Нефертум стал считаться сыном Птаха, когда его мать стала женой этого бога, и в этом качестве он получил третье место в древнейшей Мемфисской триаде.

Иллюстрация 9: северный из двух колоссов утраченной погребальной камеры Аменхотепа III, представлявший в Поздней Древности Мемнона из мифа о Троянской войне, который погиб в ходе неё от рук Ахиллеса.

Баст или Бастет (η Μπαστ, Bast, Bastet, Bastit) - отождествлялась древними греками с Артемидой (возможно потому, что они путали её с богиней-львицей Тефнут (η Τεφνέτ)). Это было местное божество Бубаста (η Βούβαστις, Per Bast (“обилище Баст»)), центра 18-го нома Нижнего Египта. Баст стала великим божеством в Египетском царстве после того, как Бубаст стал его столицей около 950 года до н. э., во времена знаменитого Шешонка (Sheshonk) и фараонов Ливийской (XXII-й) династии. Сперва это была богиня-львица и олицетворение оплодотворяющего тепла, а позднее её священным животным стал индюк. Она изображалась как женщина с индюшиной головой, держащая в своей правой руке музыкальный инструмент систр или полукруглую эгиду с головой львицы, а в левой руке - корзину. Она пополнилась с богом Солнца, для которого она считалась то сестрой и женой, то дочерью. Как и Сехмет, с которой её путали несмотря на их совершенно разный характер, она считалась супругой мемфисского Птаха, с которым она формировала триаду, третьим членом которой был бог Нефертум. Хотя Баст являлась одним из величайших божеств Египта как покровительница фараонов правивших в Бубасте, её популярность достигла своего пика лишь в IV веке до н. э., после того, как она обрела и вторую форму как Пехет (η Πεχέτ, Pekhet), которая имела голову индюшки или львицы, и которая являлась богиней города Артемида Спеос, на восток от современного Бени Хассана (Beni Hassan).

Богиня радости, как и Хатхор, Баст любила музыку и танцы под аккомпанемент систра, украшенного индюшиной головой. Это была благоволительная богиня, защищавшая людей от инфекционных болезней и от злых духов. Временами совершались крупные радостные праздники в её большом храме в Бубасте - прекраснейшем во всём Египте, как писал Геродот. Туда приходили в качестве паломников к Баст сотни тысяч верующих во время большой ежегодной ярмарки. Они путешествовали дотуда на лодках, в сопровождении игры на флейтах и погремушек (τα κρόταλα). Среди паломников непрерывно звучали весёлые шутки, также как среди женщин, которые наблюдали за парадом прибывавших лодок с берегов Нила.

В заранее определённый день пышное шествие проходило через город, тогда как праздник продолжался. В это время люди на празднике поглощали больше вина, чем в остальной год. Чтобы возблагодарить богиню-индюшку, верующие посвящали ей множество статуэток индюшки, а также хоронили в тени храмов аккуратно мумифицированные трупы кошек, которых почитали при их жизни как священных животных Баст.

Нейт (η Νήιτ, Neit, Neith, Nit) - отождествлялась древними греками с богиней Афиной. Она была богиней Дельты Нила, покровительницей города Сара. Когда в VII веке до н. э. Когда Псамметих I основатель XXVII-й династии, взошёл на египетский трон, и Сарс стал столицей Египта, то местная богиня обрела огромный авторитет и большое богатство. В действительности, Нейт была древним божеством. Её фетиш - две перекрещивающиеся на шкуре животного стрелы - был обнаружен на вершине-эмблеме одного доисторического рода, и её имя было одной из составных частей имён цариц I-й династии.

По наименованию Техенут (η Τεχενούτ, Tehenut), что означает «Ливийская», делается вывод о западном происхождении Нейт, где она имела видное место в Саиссе. Быть может, ранее она являлась национальной богиней в Нижнем Египте, поскольку она носит «нет» (το «νετ»), то есть красную корону Нижнего Египта, название которой созвучно имени этой богини. Нейт сперва почитали в образе фетиша - двух стрел, перекрещающихсч надо щитом или над пятнистой шкурой животного. Позднее она изображалась в виде женщины с короной Севера, держащей лук со стрелами, а затем - ткацкая игла, знак, который стал идеограммой имени богини Нейт. На некоторых изображениях Нейт имеет лишь ткацкую иглу на своей голове, в качестве характерного знака (атрибута). На деле, Нейт имеет две природы: это военная богиня и богиня домашних ремёсел, покровительница женщин, и поэтому её отождествили с богиней Афиной, тоже двухприродной. После того как она стала главенствующим божеством с победой Саисской династии, ей были одновременно приписаны и многие космогонические мифы. Она стала божеством Неба, подобно Нут и Хатхор, и была сочтена матерью всех богов, и в особенности бога Ра, которого она «родила ещё до того, как появилось само явление родов». Она стала «великой ткачихой», которая соткала мир своей ткацкой иглой, подобно тому, как женщины ткут ткани, и под именем Мех Урт (Meh Ourt) («великая корова»), Нейт породила Небо ещё тогда, когда ещё ничего не существовало. Нейт вошла в Осирический круг, зачастую предоставляя хлеб и воду умершим, когда они идут в Нижний мир. Как и Исида с Нефтидой зачастую изображаются вместе, точно также и Нейт изображается с Селькет (η Σελπίς), либо как хранительница мумии и внутренностей умершего, либо как покровительница браков. Ныне не сохранилось почти ничего от знаменитого Саисского храма, в котором, как говорит Плутарх, существовала надпись:

«Я - то, что было, то, что есть, и то, что будет. Ни один смертный до сих пор не сумел поднять пеплос, который скрывает меня».

В этом святилище существовала также медицинская школа, «Дом жизни», которой управляли жрецы, и которую, когда персы владели Египтом, египтянин-врач царей Камбиса и Дария I Великого, сумел реорганизовать, благодаря тому, что он добился благоволения этих царей.


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Amen (Amon, Amun, Ammon, Amoun)

Amen's name means "The Hidden One." Amen was the patron deity of the
city of Thebes from earliest times, and was viewed (along with his
consort Amenet) as a primordial creation-deity. He is represented in
five forms: (1) a man, enthroned; (2) a frog-headed man (as a
primordial deity); (3) a cobra-headed man; (4) an ape; (5) a lion.
His sacred animals were the goose and the ram, though he was not
depicted as them.

Up to Dynasty XII Amen was unimportant except in Thebes; but when the
Thebans had established their sovereignty in Egypt, Amen became a
prominent deity, and by Dynasty XVIII was termed the King of the Gods.
His famous temple, Karnak, is the largest religious structure ever
built by man. According to E.A.Wallis Budge's _Gods of the
Egyptians_, Amen by Dynasy XIX-XX was thought of as "an invisible
creative power which was the source of all life in heaven, and on the
earth, and in the great deep, and in the Underworld, and which made
itself manifest under the form of Ra."

Amen was self-created, according to later traditions; according to the
older Theban traditions, Amen was created by Thoth as one of the eight
primordial deities of creation (Amen, Amenet, Heq, Heqet, Nun, Naunet,
Kau, Kauket).

During the New Kingdom, Amen's consort was Mut, "Mother," who seems to
have been the Egyptian equivalent of the "Great Mother" archetype.
The two thus formed a pair reminiscent of the God and Goddess of other
traditions such as Wicca.

SEE ALSO Amen-Ra, Mut, Thoth.

-----
Amen-Ra

A composite deity, invented by the priests of Amen as an attempt to
link New Kingdom (Dyn. XVIII-XXI) worship of Amen with the older solar
cult of the god Ra.

SEE ALSO Amen, Ra.

-----
Amset (Imsety, Mestha, GD: Ameshet)

One of the Four Sons of Horus, Amset was represented as a mummified
man. He was the protector of the liver of the deceased, and was
protected by the goddess Isis.

SEE ALSO Four Sons of Horus, Isis.

-----
Anubis (Anpu, GD: Ano-Oobist)

Anubis (the Greek corruption of the Egyptian "Anpu") was the son of
Nephthys: by some traditions, the father was Set; by others, Osiris.
Anubis was depicted as a jackal, or as a jackal-headed man; in
primitive times he was probably simply the jackal god. Owing to the
jackal's tendency to prowl around tombs, he became associated with the
dead, and by the Old Kingdom, Anubis was worshipped as the inventor of
embalming, who had embalmed the dead Osiris, thus helping preserve him
in order to live again. Anubis was also worshipped under the form
"Wepuat" ("Opener of the Ways"), sometimes with a rabbit's head, who
conducted the souls of the dead to their judgement, and who monitored
the Scales of Truth to protect the dead from deception and eternal
death.

SEE ALSO Nephthys, Osiris, Set.

-----
Bast (Bastet)

A cat-goddess, worshiped in the Delta city of Bubastis. A protectress
of cats and those who cared for cats. As a result, an important deity
in the home (since cats were prized pets) and also important in the
iconography (since the serpents which attack the sun god were usually
represented in papyri as being killed by cats).

She was also worshiped as the consort of Ptah-seker-ausar; and is
joined with Sekhmet and Ra (a very unusual combination of male and
female deities) to form Sekhmet-bast-ra, also worshiped as
Ptah-seker-ausar's spouse, and viewed as a deity of the destructive,
purifying power of the sun.

SEE ALSO Ptah, Ra, Sekhmet.

-----
Bes

A deity of either African or Semitic origin; came to Egypt by Dynasty
XII. Depicted as a bearded, savage-looking yet comical dwarf, shown
full-face in images (highly unusual by Egyptian artistic conventions).
Revered as a deity of household pleasures such as music, good food,
and relaxation. Also a protector and entertainer of children.
However, many texts point to the idea that Bes was a terrible,
avenging deity, who was as swift to punish the wicked as he was to
amuse and delight the righteous.

-----
Duamutef (GD: Thmoomathph, Tuamutef)

One of the Four Sons of Horus, Duamutef was represented as a mummified
man with the head of a jackal. He was the protector of the stomach of
the deceased, and was protected by the goddess Neith.

SEE ALSO Four Sons of Horus, Neith.

-----
Four Sons of Horus

The four sons of Horus were the protectors of the parts of the body of
Osiris, and from this, became the protectors of the body of the
deceased. They were: Amset, Hapi, Duamutef, and Qebhsenuef. They
were protected in turn by the goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and
Serket.

SEE ALSO Amset, Duamutef, Hapi, Isis, Neith, Nephthys, Qebhsenuef, and
Serket.

-----
Geb (Seb)

The god of the earth, son of Shu and Tefnut, brother and husband of
Nuit, and father of Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys. In the earliest
stages of Egyptian history his name was Geb; in later forms of the
language it became Seb, but the old pronunciation has become so common
in popular works on the subject that it is used herein. His sacred
animal was the goose, and he was often referred to as the "Great
Cackler". He is generally represented as a man with green or black
skin - the color of living things, and the color of the fertile Nile
mud, respectively. It was said that Seb would hold imprisoned the
souls of the wicked, that they might not ascend to heaven.

-----
Hadit: SEE Hor-behedet.

-----
Hapi (GD: Ahephi)

One of the Four Sons of Horus, Hapi was represented as a mummified man
with the head of a baboon. He was the protector of the lungs of the
deceased, and was protected by the goddess Nephthys.

The name Hapi, spelled identically in mostbut not all cases, is also
the name of the god who was the personification of the River Nile,
depicted as a corpulent man (fat signifying abundance) with a crown of
lilies or papyrus stems.

SEE ALSO Four Sons of Horus, Nephthys.

-----
Hathor (Het-heru, Het-Hert)

A very old goddess of Egypt, worshiped as a cow-deity from earliest
times. The name "Hathor" is the Greek corruption of the variants
Het-Hert ("the House Above") and Het-Heru ("the House of Horus").
Both terms refer to her as a sky goddess. The priests of Heliopolis
often referred to her as Ra's consort, the mother of Shu and Tefnut.
Like Isis, Hathor was considered by many to be the goddess "par
excellence" and held the attributes of most of the other goddesses at
one time or another. Like Isis and Mut, Hathor was a manifestation of
the "Great Mother" archetype; a sort of cosmic Yin.

She had so very many manifestations that eventually seven important
ones were selected and widely worshiped as the "Seven Hathors": Hathor
of Thebes, Heliopolis, Aphroditopolis, Sinai, Momemphis,
Herakleopolis, and Keset.

The Greeks identified her with Aphrodite, and this is not too far off,
as she represented, in the texts, everything true, good, and beautiful
in all forms of woman; mother, wife, sister, and daughter; also the
patron of artists of every kind, and of joyful things, festivals, and
happiness. The star Sirius (called by the Egyptians Sepdet) was sacred
to her.

SEE ALSO Isis, Mut, Ra, Shu, Tefnut.

-----
Heru-ra-ha

A composite deity in Crowley's quasi-Egyptian mythology; composed of
Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Hoor-par-kraat. Apparently without basis in
historical Egyptian mythology, but the name, translated into Egyptian,
means something approximating "Horus and Ra be Praised!"

SEE ALSO Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Hoor-pa-kraat.

-----
Hor-akhuti (Horakhty)

"Horus of (or in) the Horizons," one of the most common titles of
Horus, especially when in his function as a solar deity, emphasizing
his reign stretching from one horizon to the other.

SEE ALSO Horus, Ra, Ra-Hoor-Khuit.

-----
Hor-behedet (HADIT)

A form of Horus worshipped in the city of Behdet, shown in the
well-known form of a solar disk with a great pair of wings, usually
seen hovering above important scenes in Egyptian religious art. Made
popular by Aleister Crowley under the poorly transliterated name
"HADIT", the god appears to have been a way of depicting the
omnipresence of Ra and Horus. As Crowley says in _Magick in Theory
and Practice_, "the infinitely small and atomic yet omnipresent point
is called HADIT." This is a good expression of the god - seen almost
everywhere, yet at the same time small and out-of-the-way.

SEE ALSO Horus.

-----
Hor-pa-kraat (Horus the Child, GD: Hoor-par-kraat)

Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, distinguished from Horus the Elder,
who was the old patron deity of Upper Egypt; but the worship of the
two gods became confused early in Egyptian history and the two
essentially merged. Represented as a young boy with a child's
sidelock of hair, sucking his finger.

The Golden Dawn attributed Silence to him, presumably because the
sucking of the finger is suggestive of the common "shhh" gesture.

SEE ALSO Horus.

-----
Horus (Her)

One of the most important deities of Egypt. Horus as now conceived is
a mixture of the original deities known as "Horus the Child" and
"Horus the Elder". As the Child, Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis,
who, upon reaching adulthood, becomes known as Her-nedj-tef-ef
("Horus, Avenger of His Father") by avenging his father's death, by
defeating and casting out his evil uncle Set. He then became the
divine prototype of the Pharaoh.

As Horus the Elder, he was also the patron deity of Upper (Southern)
Egypt from the earliest times; initially, viewed as the twin brother
of Set (the patron of Lower Egypt), but he became the conqueror of Set
c. 3000 B.C.E. when Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt and formed the
unified kingdom of Egypt.

SEE ALSO Hor-pa-kraat, Horus the Elder, Isis, Osiris, Set.

-----
Horus the Elder (Her-ur, Aroueris)

Horus, the patron god of Upper Egypt from time immemorial;
distinguished from Horus the Child (Hor-pa-kraat), who was the son of
Isis and Osiris; but the two gods merged early in Egyptian history and
became the one Horus, uniting the attributes of both.

SEE ALSO Hor-pa-kraat, Horus.

-----
Isis (Auset)

Perhaps the most important goddess of all Egyptian mythology, Isis
assumed, during the course of Egyptian history, the attributes and
functions of virtually every other important goddess in the land. Her
most important functions, however, were those of motherhood, marital
devotion, healing the sick, and the working of magical spells and
charms. She was believed to be the most powerful magician in the
universe, owing to the fact that she had learned the Secret Name of Ra
from the god himself. She was the sister and wife of Osiris, sister
of Set, and twin sister of Nephthys. She was the mother of Horus the
Child (Hor-pa-kraat), and was the protective goddess of Horus's son
Amset, protector of the liver of the deceased.

Isis was responsible for protecting Horus from Set during his infancy;
for helping Osiris to return to life; and for assisting her husband to
rule in the land of the Dead.

Her cult seems to have originally centered, like her husband's, at
Abydos near the Delta in the North (Lower Egypt); she was adopted into
the family of Ra early in Egyptian history by the priests of
Heliopolis, but from the New Kingdom onwards (c. 1500 BC) her worship
no longer had any particular identifiable center, and she became more
or less universally worshiped, as her husband was.

SEE ALSO Amset, Hor-pa-kraat, Horus, Nephthys, Osiris, Ra, Set.

-----
Khephra (Keper)

The creator-god, according to early Heliopolitan cosmology; considered
a form of Ra. The Egyptian root "kheper" signifies several things,
according to context, most notably the verb "to create" or "to
transform", and also the word for "scarab beetle". The scarab, or
dung beetle, was considered symbolic of the sun since it rolled a ball
of dung in which it laid its eggs around with it - this was considered
symbolic of the sun god propelling the sphere of the sun through the
sky. In later Heliopolitan belief, which named the sun variously
according to the time of the day, Khephra was the nighttime form of
the sun.

SEE ALSO Ra.

-----
Khonsu (Chons)

The third member (with his parents Amen and Mut) of the great triad of
Thebes. Khonsu was the god of the moon. The best-known story about
him tells of him playing the ancient game "senet" ("passage") against
Thoth, and wagered a portion of his light. Thoth won, and because of
losing some of his light, Khonsu cannot show his whole glory for the
entire month, but must wax and wane.

SEE ALSO Amen, Mut, Thoth.

-----
Ma'at (Ma)

The wife of Thoth, Ma'at's name means "Truth", "Justice", and perhaps
even "Tao". It cannot readily be rendered into English but "truth" is
perhaps a satisfactory translation. Ma'at was represented as a tall
woman with an ostrich feather in her hair. She was present at the
judgement of the dead; her feather was balanced against the heart of
the deceased to determine whether he had led a pure and honest life.
All civil laws in Egypt were held up to the "Law of Ma'at", which
essentially was a series of old conceptions and morals dating to the
earliest times in Egypt. A law contrary to the Law of Ma'at would not
have been considered valid in Egypt.

SEE ALSO Thoth.

-----
Min (Menu, Amsu)

A form of Amen depicted holding a flail (thought to represent a
thunderbolt in Egyptian art) and with an erect penis; his full name
was often given as Menu-ka-mut-ef ("Min, Bull of his Mother"). Min
was worshiped as the god of virility; lettuces were offered as
sacrifice to him and then eaten in hopes of procuring manhood; and he
was worshiped as the husband of the goddess Qetesh, goddess of love
and femininity.

SEE ALSO Amen, Qetesh.

-----
Mut (GD: Auramooth)

The wife of Amen in Theban tradition; seen as the mother, the loving,
receptive, nurturing force (similar to Yin) behind all things, even as
her husband was the great energy, the creative force (similar to
Yang). The word "mut" in Ancient Egyptian means "mother". She was
also the mother of Khonsu, the moon god.

SEE ALSO Amen, Khonsu.

-----
Neith (Net, Neit, GD: Thoum-aesh-neith)

A very ancient goddess worshiped in the Delta; revered as a goddess of
wisdom, often identified with Ma'at; in later traditions, the sister
of Isis, Nephthys, and Serket, and protectress of Duamutef, the god of
the stomach of the deceased.

SEE ALSO Duamutef, Ma'at.

-----
Nephthys (Nebt-het)

The sister and wife of Set, and sister of Isis and Osiris; also the
mother (variantly by Set or by Osiris) of Anubis. She abandoned Set
when he killed Osiris, and assisted Isis in the care of Horus and the
resurrection of Osiris. She was, along with her sister, considered
the special protectress of the dead, and she was the guardian of Hapi,
the protector of the lungs of the deceased.

SEE ALSO Hapi, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Set.

-----
Nuit (Nut)

The goddess of the sky, daughter of Shu and Tefnut, sister and wife of
Geb, mother of Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys. Described by Crowley
in his _Magick in Theory and Practice_ thus: "Infinite space is called
the goddess NUIT." Nut was generally depicted as a woman with blue
skin, and her body covered with stars, standing on all fours, leaning
over her husband, representing the sky arched over the earth. Her
relationship to HADIT is an invention of Crowley's with no basis in
Egyptology, save only that Hadit was often depicted underneath Nuit -
one finds Nuit forming the upper frame of a scene, and the winged disk
Hadit floating beneath, silently as always. This is an artistic
convention, and there was no marriage between the two in ancient
Egyptian legend.

SEE ALSO Geb, Hor-behedet (Hadit), Shu.

-----
Osiris (Ausar)

The god of the dead, and the god of the resurrection into eternal
life; ruler, protector, and judge of the deceased, and his prototype
(the deceased was in historical times usually referred to as "the
Osiris"). His cult originated in Abydos, where his actual tomb was
said to be located.

Osiris was the first child of Nut and Geb, thus the brother of Set,
Nephthys, and Isis, who was also his wife. By Isis he fathered Horus,
and according to some stories, Nephthys assumed the form of Isis,
seduced him thus, and from their union was born Anubis.

Osiris ruled the world of men in the beginning, after Ra had abandoned
the world to rule the skies, but he was murdered by his brother Set.
Through the magic of Isis, he was made to live again. Being the first
living thing to die, he subsequently became lord of the dead. His
death was avenged by his son Horus, who defeated Set and cast him out
into the desert to the West of Egypt (the Sahara).

Prayers and spells were addressed to Osiris throughout Egyptian
history, in hopes of securing his blessing and entering the afterlife
which he ruled; but his popularity steadily increased through the
Middle Kingdom. By Dynasty 18 he was probably the most widely
worshiped god in Egypt. His popularity endured until the latest
phases of Egyptian history; reliefs still exist of Roman emperors,
conquerors of Egypt, dressed in the traditional garb of the Pharaohs,
making offerings to him in the temples.

SEE ALSO Anubis, Geb, Horus, Isis, Nephthys, Ra, Set.

-----
Pharaoh (deified kings)

From earliest times in Egypt the pharaohs were worshipped as gods: the
son of Ra, the son of Horus, the son of Amen, etc. depending upon what
period of Egyptian history and what part of the country is being
considered. It should be noted that prayers, sacrifices, etc. to the
pharaohs were extremely rare, if they occured at all - there seems to
be little or no evidence to support an actual cult of the pharaoh.
The pharaoh was looked upon as being chosen by and favored by the gods
his fathers. The pharaoh was never regarded as the son of any
goddesses, but rather as the son of the Queen his mother, fathered by
the god, incarnate as his earthly father. (A few seeming exceptions
to this include a sculpture of Pharaoh Tutankhamen being embraced by
his "parents" Amen and Mut, but the intent here seems to be to compare
the king with their son Khonsu, rather than to actually claim that Mut
was his mother.)

SEE ALSO Amen, Khonsu, Mut.

-----
Ptah

Worshiped in Memphis from the earliest dynastic times (c.3000 BC),
Ptah was seen as the creator of the universe in the Memphite
cosmology. He fashioned the bodies in which dwelt the souls of men in
the afterlife. Other versions of the myths state that he worked under
Thoth's orders, creating the heavens and the earth according to
Thoth's specifications.

Ptah is depicted as a bearded man wearing a skullcap, shrouded much
like a mummy, with his hands emerging from the wrappings in front and
holding the Uas (phoenix-headed) scepter, an Ankh, and a Djed (sign of
stability). He was often worshiped in conjunction with the gods Seker
and Osiris, and worshiped under the name Ptah-seker-ausar.

SEE ALSO Osiris, Seker, Thoth.

-----
Qebhsenuef (Kabexnuf, Qebsneuef)

One of the Four Sons of Horus, Qebhsenuef was represented as a
mummified man with the head of a falcon. He was the protector of the
intestines of the deceased, and was protected by the goddess Serket.

SEE ALSO Four Sons of Horus, Serket.

-----
Qetesh

Originally believed to be a Syrian deity, Qetesh was an important form
of Hathor, specifically referred to in the latter's function as
goddess of love and beauty. Qetesh was depicted as a beautiful nude
woman, standing or riding upon a lion, holding flowers, a mirror, or
serpents. She is generally shown full-face (unusual in Egyptian
artistic convention). She was also considered the consort of the god
Min, the god of virility.

SEE ALSO Hathor, Min.

-----
Ra

Ra was the god of the sun during dynastic Egypt; the name is thought
to have meant "creative power", and as a proper name "Creator",
similar to English Christian usage of the term "Creator" to signify
the "almighty God." Very early in Egyptian history Ra was identified
with Horus, who as a hawk or falon-god represented the loftiness of
the skies. Ra is represented either as a hawk-headed man or as a
hawk.

Owing to the fact that the sun was a fire, the Egyptians realized that
in order to travel through the waters of Heaven and the Underworld, it
required a boat, and so Ra was depicted as traveling in a boat.
During the day the boat was a great galley called Madjet ("becoming
strong") and during the night, a small barge called Semektet
("becoming weak").

During dynastic Egypt Ra's cult center was Annu (Hebrew "On", Greek
"Heliopolis", modern-day "Cairo"). In Dynasty V, the first king,
Userkaf, was also Ra's high priest, and he added the term "Sa-Ra (Son
of Ra)" to the titulary of the pharaohs.

Ra was father of Shu and Tefnut, grandfather of Nut and Geb,
great-grandfather of Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys, and
great-great-grandfather to Horus. In later periods (about Dynasty 18
on) Osiris and Isis superseded him in popularity, but he remained "Ra
netjer-aa neb-pet" ("Ra, the great God, Lord of Heaven") whether
worshiped in his own right or, in later times, as half of the Lord of
the Universe, Amen-Ra.

SEE ALSO Amen, Amen-Ra, Geb, Horus, Isis, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Set,
Shu, Tefnut.

-----
Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Ra-Hor-akhuti)

"Ra, who is Horus of the Horizons." An appelation of Ra, identifying
him with Horus, showing the two as manifestations of the singular
Solar Force. The spelling "Ra-Hoor-Khuit" was popularized by Aleister
Crowley, first in the Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis).

SEE ALSO Hor-akhuti, Horus, Ra.

-----
Seb: SEE Geb.

-----
Sebek

The crocodile-god, worshipped at the city of Arsinoe, called
Crocodilopolis by the Greeks. Sebek was worshipped to appease him and
his animals. According to some evidence, Sebek was considered a
fourfold deity who represented the four elemental gods (Ra of fire,
Shu of air, Geb of earth, and Osiris of water). In the Book of the
Dead, Sebek assists in the birth of Horus; he fetches Isis and
Nephthys to protect the deceased; and he aids in the destruction of
Set.

-----
Seker

A god of light, protector of the spirits of the dead passing through
the Underworld en route to the afterlife. Seker was worshiped in
Memphis as a form of Ptah or as part of the compound deities
Ptah-seker or Ptah-seker-ausar. Seker was usually depicted as having
the head of a hawk, and shrouded as a mummy, similar to Ptah.

SEE ALSO Ptah.

-----
Sekhmet

A lioness-goddess, worshiped in Memphis as the wife of Ptah; created
by Ra from the fire of his eyes as a creature of vengeance to punish
mankind for his sins; later, became a peaceful protectress of the
righteous. She was worshiped with Bast and Ra as a compound deity,
Sekhmet-bast-ra, and was considered the consort of Ptah-seker-ausar.

SEE ALSO Bast, Ptah, Ra, Seker.

-----
Serket (Serqet, Selket)

A scorpion-goddess, shown as a beautiful woman with a scorpion poised
on her head; her creature struck death to the wicked, but she was also
prayed to to save the lives of innocent people stung by scorpions; she
was also viewed as a helper of women in childbirth. She is also
depicted as binding up demons that would otherwise threaten Ra, and
she sent seven of her scorpions to protect Isis from Set.

She was the protectress of Qebhsenuef, the son of Horus who guarded
the intestines of the deceased. She was made famous by her statue
from Tutankhamen's tomb, which was part of the collection which toured
America in the 1970's.

SEE ALSO Isis, Qebhsenuef, Ra, Set.

-----
Set

Originally, in earliest times, Set was the patron deity of Lower
(North) Egypt, and represented the fierce storms of the desert whom
the Lower Egyptians sought to appease. However, when Upper Egypt
conquered Lower Egypt and ushered in the First Dynasty, Set became
known as the evil enemy of Horus (Upper Egypt's dynastic god).

Set was the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys, and husband of the
latter; according to some versions of the myths he is also father of
Anubis.

Set is best known for murdering his brother and attempting to kill his
nephew Horus; Horus, however, managed to survive and grew up to avenge
his father's death by establishing his rule over all Egypt and casting
Set out into the lonely desert for all time.

In the 19th Dynasty there began a resurgence of respect for Set, and
he was seen as a great god once more, the god who benevolently
restrained the forces of the desert; but this was short-lived and by
around Dynasty 20 or 21 Set became once more dreaded as the god of
evil.

SEE ALSO Anubis, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Nephthys.

-----
Shu

The god of the atmosphere and of dry winds, son of Ra, brother and
husband of Tefnut, father of Geb and Nuit. Represented in hieroglyphs
by an ostrich feather (similar to Ma'at's), which symbol he is usually
shown wearing on his head. He is generally shown standing on the
recumbent Geb, holding aloft his daughter Nuit, separating the two.
It was said that if he ever ceased to interpose himself between earth
and sky, life would cease to be on our world - a very accurate
assessment, it would seem. The name "Shu" appears to be related to
the root "shu" meaning "dry, empty." Shu also seems to be a
personification of the sun's light. Shu and Tefnut were also said to
be but two halves of one soul, perhaps the earliest recorded example
of "soulmates."

SEE ALSO Geb, Nuit, Ra, Tefnut.

-----
Tefnut

The goddess of moisture and clouds, daughter of Ra, sister and wife of
Shu, mother of Geb and Nuit. Depicted as a woman with the head of a
lioness, which was her sacred animal. The name "Tefnut" probably
derives from the root "teftef", signifying "to spit, to moisten" and
the root "nu" meaning "waters, sky."

SEE ALSO Geb, Nuit, Ra, Shu.

-----
Thoth (Tahuti)

The god of wisdom (Thoth is the Greek corruption of the original
Egyptian Tahuti), Thoth was said to be self-created at the beginning
of time, along with his consort Ma'at (truth). The two produced eight
children, of which the most important was Amen, the hidden one, who
was worshiped in Thebes as the Lord of the Universe.

Thoth was depicted as a man with the head of an ibis bird, and carried
a pen and scrolls upon which he recorded all things. He was shown as
attendant in almost all major scenes involving the gods, but
especially at the judgement of the deceased.

It was widely believed that Thoth invented the magical and hermetic
arts, and thus the Tarot deck, especially its revision by Aleister
Crowley, is often referred to as the "Book of Thoth".

SEE ALSO Amen, Ma'at.

-----

Part II - Frequently asked Questions (per se)

-----

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

Herein I have placed a few frequently asked questions, and their
answers, concerning ancient Egyptian mythology.

If anyone can suggest any additions, modifications, clarifications,
etc. please feel free to contact me by Email at knightster+@cmu.edu .
Also, if anyone catches any typos, let me know. Typos in the names of
gods may or may not be corrected, depending upon whether (upon
consulting my sources, grammars, dictionaries, etc.) they're actually
typos! If some fact is blatantly wrong, please contact me with a
reference, and I will see if I can find some further information on
the subject. In such cases, we may be considering two different
versions of the myth, in which case I will add the variant information
as such to the FAQ.

-----
* In Liber AL, there are some Egyptian names that look funny. What's
the deal?

Crowley, it seems, tried as much as possible to use the original
Egyptian pronounciations of divine names, rather than use their
popular Greek corruptions. Some of these (e.g. Hadit) have since been
revised in the light of better knowledge of Egyptian, but his attempt
was in general a good one.

* Was there any Egyptian gematria?

Put simply, no. If there was a standard order used by the Egyptians
for their alphabet, it has been lost. And unlike Hebrew, but like
English, the symbols used to express numbers in Ancient Egyptian were
not used for letters.

However, since the phonetics of Egyptian closely parallel Hebrew, it
is possible to transliterate Egyptian names and phrases into the
Hebrew alphabet for gematric computations much more readily than
English.

* What's the deal with all these 'hyphenated' gods like Amen-Ra,
Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Ptah-Seker-Ausar, etc.?

Most hyphenated gods' names are explained thusly:

In ancient Egypt, different cities often had completely different
conceptions of cosmology. As the influence of a city grew, so often
did the influence of its mythos. It became necessary to reconcile
different gods who served similar roles, and so the priests took the
enlightened viewpoint that the "gods" were merely one entity
manifesting under different names and/or forms. The one entity was
referred to by a compound name, such as Amen-Ra or Ptah-Seker-Ausar.

However, some hyphenated gods' names are merely hyphenated to make
them easier to read, for example, Her-nedj-tef-f, from the Egyptian
words Her "Horus", nedj "avenger", tef "father", and -f "his", thus
"Horus, the avenger of his father."

In the case of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, we have both explanations in force: Ra
"Ra", Hoor "Horus", khuit "of the horizons", thus "Ra, who is like
Horus of the Horizons
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Handbook of Egyptian Mythology

Geraldine Pinch
ABC-CLIO
Santa Barbara, California • Denver, Colorado • Oxford, England
2002 by Geraldine Pinch

INTRODUCTION
WHAT IS A MYTH?
If asked this question, most people would reply that a myth is a story that is not
true, even though you might want it to be. Scholarly arguments about the definition
of a myth have been going on for more than 2,000 years. Many definitions
have been proposed. Among the most common are that myths are stories
about gods, myths are sacred stories, myths are stories that explain the way the
world is, or myths are simply traditional stories that hand on collective knowledge
or experience.
Writers from various disciplines and intellectual movements have interpreted
myth in different ways. Myths have been seen as a “disease of language,”
as garbled memories of historical events, as a mode of prelogical
thought, as expressions of the subconscious mind, as symbolic descriptions of
the natural world or symbolic statements about the social order, and as the
spoken part of ritual.1 As theories to explain the whole of world mythology,
these interpretations all have flaws, but each of them is applicable to some
Egyptian myths.
In his book on the meaning and functions of myth, G. S. Kirk proposed
three main categories of myths.2 His first category is myths told for entertainment.
This is a reminder that myths may be sacred, but they are not necessarily
solemn. The validity of this category might be challenged, but some cultures do
seem to have told one version of a myth for entertainment while another, more
secret version, was used in rituals.3
Kirk’s second category includes operative, iterative, or validatory myths.
These are stories about things that may not have really happened, but the stories
themselves are thought to have power to transform the real world. Such
myths “tend to be repeated regularly on ritual or ceremonial occasions . . . to
bring about a desirable continuity in nature or society.”4 Myths that are used to
justify and maintain a particular institution or state of affairs are sometimes
known as charter myths. In Kirk’s third category are explanatory or speculative
myths. These may be simple etiological myths that explain the origin of an object,
custom, or natural feature,5 or they may be complex myths that try to answer
the questions that have always troubled humanity, such as why people
die. Some myths seem to acknowledge that these questions may be unanswerable
but provide strategies for coping with the sorrows and contradictions of human
life. Examples of all these different categories of myths can be found
within Egyptian mythology. In order to explore this mythology, we must first
look at the geography and history of Ancient Egypt.
MYTH AND GEOGRAPHY
Egypt is a large country in the northeast corner of the continent of Africa, but
modern geographical terms have little relevance to how the Ancient Egyptians
saw themselves. They had no conception of the huge size of Africa. In the third
millennium BCE the Egyptians’ known world extended only from what are now
Greece and Turkey in the north to what is now Ethiopia in the south, and from
Libya in the west to what is now Iraq in the east (see Map Two). The Egyptians
believed that they were set apart from the people who lived in these surrounding
countries. The ancient word Kemet (usually translated as Egypt) literally
means Black Land. This referred to the rich black soil of the land on either bank
of the great river Nile, which flows through the center of Egypt. The Egyptians
were claiming to be the people of the valley, but they had not always been so.
For many millennia North Africa enjoyed a moist climate. Vast areas that
are now desert were then grasslands with large animal populations. Nomadic
peoples, all with a fairly similar culture, ranged across the grasslands. From
around the sixth millennium BCE on, the climate became drier and hotter, and
the grasslands gradually turned into desert. The first Egyptians built villages on
the edges of the Nile valley, where they mainly survived by hunting and fishing.
By the fourth millennium BCE, agriculture-based communities were established
in the Nile valley and Delta. This great climatic and cultural change may have
shaped the idea found in Egyptian myth that the world had once been different.
Egypt had become one of the driest places on earth and a hard country to
get in or out of. To the north there were marshes, saltwater lakes, and the
Mediterranean Sea. The Ancient Egyptians were never enthusiastic seafarers
and were one of the few coastal cultures to worship no deities of the sea. To the
east, west, and south there were deserts that were dangerous to cross. These
deserts made up about 90 percent of Egypt’s territory. The Egyptians called
them the Red Land in contrast to the Black Land of the valley.6 The mountainous
areas of the deserts contained gold, gemstones, and types of hard stone that
could be used to make long-lasting buildings and artifacts. The south of the
country often went without rain for many years at a stretch. When rain did

come, it was in the form of violent desert storms that could lead to destructive
flash floods. The usually cloudless skies made it particularly easy for the
Egyptians to observe the stars and planets. Much early mythology may have developed
to explain the movement of celestial bodies.
The habitable part of Egypt was effectively a giant oasis created by the Nile
and its annual flood, which is known as the inundation. Every year a combination
of melting snows and monsoon rains in the mountains of Ethiopia caused a
huge increase in the amount of water in the Nile. When the swollen river
reached Egypt, it flooded all the low-lying land in the Nile valley and Delta, depositing
a thick layer of silt.7 As the floods went down, the fields were planted,
and crops such as emmer wheat and barley grew very quickly in the moist, fertile
soil. In a good year, the Egyptians could grow more grain than they needed
to feed the population. In bad years, the flood might not be high enough to
reach all the fields, or it might be too high and sweep away villages and towns
and drown thousands of people. The whole welfare of the country depended on
this one phenomenon, and because of this the Ancient Egyptians seem to have
felt both uniquely blessed and uniquely vulnerable.
Aspects of the inundation were personified as deities (see “Hapy” in
“Deities, Themes, and Concepts”), but there was no god or goddess of the Nile.
Introduction 3
Figure 1. The Nile Valley (Black Land) seen from the desert hills (Red Land). (Courtesy of
Geraldine Pinch)
The annual rising of the Nile was thought of as part of the divine order of things
decreed by a creator deity. This divine order was known as maat, and the creator
was often identified with the god of the sun. The sun was the great
provider of the light and warmth necessary for life. Its rays were also powerful
enough to blind or kill. From early times on, the Egyptians believed that they
needed a spiritual leader who could treat with the dangerous world of the gods
on behalf of humanity. This leader was usually a king with semidivine status.
In Egypt, concepts that might in other cultures belong to the realm of abstract
philosophy were expressed by symbols, images, and, to a lesser extent,
myths. The divine order envisaged by the Egyptians placed their country at the
center of the created world. This world was still surrounded by the primeval
waters (the nun) from which the creator had originally emerged. The ultimate
source of the Nile and the inundation was believed to be in the nun. Foreign
lands and the deserts that bordered the Nile valley were said to belong to the
realm of chaos (isfet), the force that constantly threatened the divine order.
There was a tradition that the creator and the numerous gods and goddesses
whom he/she had created originally lived in Egypt itself. At the beginning of
history they withdrew up into the heavens or down under the earth, though
their spirits might be persuaded to reside in shrines built for them by the king.
The Egyptians believed that some supernatural beings could still be encountered
in the wilder regions of the earth, such as the remote desert and the areas
of untamed marshland on the edges of the Nile valley and in parts of the Delta.
Many of the key events in Egyptian myth, such as the burial of the murdered
god Osiris, were supposed to have happened in specific places in Egypt or
in its neighboring countries. Thus a mythical geography can be superimposed
on the physical geography. Every major Egyptian temple was designed as a
miniature cosmos in which the main events in mythical history were repeatedly
played out, so there came to be many “tombs of Osiris.” It is this kind of
apparent contradiction that has led many distinguished scholars to write about
Egyptian myth in a tone of baffled irritation. G. S. Kirk complained that a “liberalism
of interpretation, amounting at times to a chaotic indifference to consistency
and meaning, is characteristic of Egyptian thought.”8 Much of this confusion
can be resolved if the myths are examined in the contexts in which they
occur, rather than in isolation.
HISTORY AND THE SOURCES OF EGYPTIAN MYTH
Ancient Egyptian religion had no official holy book equivalent to the Bible or the
Koran (Quran). The relationships between deities did not become fixed at one
4 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
moment in time but went on changing and developing for thousands of years.
Egyptian mythology was never gathered by priests into one “authorized version”
or harmonized in any long literary work comparable to Hesiod’s Theogony, an
important source for the study of Greek mythology. Comparatively few literary
treatments of myths survive from any stage of the Egyptian language.
The mythology of Ancient Egypt has to be laboriously pieced together from
a variety of written and visual sources. The extent and nature of these sources
varied greatly during the 3,500 years that the native Pharaonic culture dominated
Egypt. The remainder of this chapter will give a historical overview of the
sources for Egyptian myth.
PROTODYNASTIC (DYNASTY 0) AND
EARLY DYNASTIC PERIODS (DYNASTIES 1–2):
C. 3200–2686 BCE
According to a tradition found in ancient chronologies, Egypt was originally divided
into separate kingdoms of Upper (southern) and Lower (northern) Egypt. A
King Menes was said to have united these kingdoms and founded a new capital
at Memphis to be the “balance of the Two Lands.” Menes cannot easily be identified
with any specific king known from contemporary records.
Early Kings
There is plenty of archaeological evidence for a series of powerful southern
kings in the late fourth millennium BCE. The hieroglyphic system of writing
may have been invented for administrative and ritual purposes at the court of
these kings.9 Two early towns were associated with their rule: Nagada, later
known as Ombos, where the local god was Seth, and Nekhen, later known as
Hierakonpolis, where a falcon god was prominent. This falcon god came to be
identified with Horus, although Horus seems to have been a northern god
in origin.
There is much less evidence for a unified northern kingdom at this time.
The gods Seth and Horus were later presented as warring opposites in need of
reconciliation. Some Egyptologists have argued that a historical war between
Ombos and Hierakonpolis, or between the north and south of Egypt, was the
origin of the myth of the conflict between Horus and Seth.10 This kind of “historicizing”
approach to myth has been out of fashion for many years but has recently
been revived.
Introduction 5
Objects from the late Protodynastic Period belonging to kings called
Narmer, Aha, and Scorpion have been recovered from temple deposits at
Hierakonpolis and Abydos. These kings may have been rulers of most of
Egypt. They probably all contributed to the legend of Menes the Uniter. Their
ritual objects belong to a formative stage in Egyptian art. Strict rules were being
developed to govern the content and style of the art used in palaces, temples,
or tombs. This formal court-based art rapidly replaced previous styles
and became the standard canon for over 3,000 years.11 Myths often focus on
episodes of intense conflict or tragedy, but the Egyptian rules of “decorum”
usually made it impermissible to illustrate such episodes in formal art. The
images used in art were felt to have power to affect the real world, so order
had to be shown triumphing over chaos and good over evil. Violent mythical
episodes such as that in which Seth tears out the eye of Horus were not represented
directly.
The King and the Gods
From the First Dynasty onward, every Egyptian king was called a Horus. The
extent to which Egyptian rulers were regarded as divine is much disputed,12
but the kings of the Early Dynastic Period certainly enjoyed more power and
responsibility than anyone else in their culture. They were rulers of the first
large nation-state in history. The king was the political, religious, and military
leader of this state. Royal annals for the Early Dynastic Period partially
survive in a copy on the Palermo Stone and related fragments.13 The annals
list the kings of Egypt, starting with a series of prehistoric kings.
Seal impressions and small bone or wood labels of the Early Dynastic
Period portray kings engaging with a variety of deities.14 Mesopotamian seals
and sealings of a comparable date appear to show episodes or characters from
myths set in the realm of the gods. The Egyptian pieces mainly show deities
as “resident” in statues or cult objects in man-made shrines. The labels record
(or anticipate) visits by kings to shrines in different parts of the country. The
royal annals record many years for which the most important events were
deemed to be the dedication of cult images or the king’s participation in rituals,
such as visiting the sacred lake of the god Heryshef (“He who is upon his
lake”) or “spearing the hippopotamus.”15
There is plenty of evidence by the Early Dynastic Period for a complex
pantheon of Egyptian deities who could be represented in a variety of human,
animal, or semihuman forms. Whether myths about these deities were cur-
6 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
rent at this stage is hard to say. The unification of the country and the subsequent
patronage of local cults by each king must have led to some kind of organization
of the pantheon at this time. Deities began to be grouped into
pairs, groups, or hierarchies. The creation of relationships between deities
who had previously been worshipped in isolation may have generated myths.
Among the earliest pairings of deities were the Two Ladies and the Two
Lords. The Two Ladies were the goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjyt. In the symbolic
language that had developed to express ideas about kingship, the Two
Ladies represented Upper and Lower Egypt and were identified with the
White Crown of the south and the Red Crown of the north. The Two Lords
were Horus and Seth. Most Early Dynastic Period kings associated themselves
with Horus by showing a Horus falcon on the serekh that enclosed
their names. The names and titles taken by a king at the start of his reign
identified the ways in which he manifested Horus and acted as a kind of policy
statement.
During the Second Dynasty a king called Peribsen replaced the Horus falcon
with the curious composite animal that represented the god Seth.
Peribsen may have been trying to assert the primacy of his local god, but he
seems to have lost his throne to a king called Khasekhemwy from
Hierakonpolis. Khasekhemwy placed both the Horus falcon and the Seth animal
above his name and included the phrase “the Two Lords are at rest in
him” in his title. This seems to be an early example of the Egyptian tendency
to present actual conflicts in mythological terms.
Two sculptures of Khasekhemwy wearing the White Crown may be the
oldest known statues of a specific historical ruler from anywhere in the
world. The king’s enemies are shown as a chaotic mass of contorted figures
under his feet, so the statues embody the triumph of order over chaos. The
reign of Khasekhemwy seems to have marked a change in royal policy.
Recent excavations have confirmed that he built several huge funerary complexes
at several different sites. A greater proportion of the country’s resources
seems to have been diverted toward the royal mortuary cult. The emphasis
was shifting from a system in which the king honored the gods and
goddesses in their local shrines to one in which the gods and goddesses were
brought together to help sanctify the king in life and the afterlife.
This trend developed further in the Third Dynasty. Some Egyptologists
place the Third Dynasty at the end of the Early Dynastic Period, whereas others
put it at the beginning of the Old Kingdom. Ancient Egyptian king lists
gave particular prominence to a Third Dynasty ruler called Netjerikhet, later
known as Djoser (Zoser). His reign was regarded as the beginning of a new era.
Introduction 7
OLD KINGDOM (DYNASTIES 3–6) AND
FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD (DYNASTIES 7–11):
C. 2686–2055 BCE
In later times the Egyptians looked back on the Old Kingdom as a golden age of
stability and achievement. King Djoser was remembered for thousands of years
as the king for whom the first pyramid was built. This was the step pyramid at
Saqqara, one of the world’s earliest great stone buildings. Early Dynastic kings
had high-walled funerary enclosures in mud brick and separate tombs under
great mounds. The two forms were put together at Saqqara, so the mound had
to become higher to be visible above the great enclosure walls. A mound was
also found as the focal point of some early temples, such as at Hierakonpolis.
Such mounds may represent the Primeval Mound that features in Egyptian creation
myths (see “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”), but there is no written evidence
from this period to confirm this.
The Pyramid Builders
The man in charge of building the pyramid complex of Djoser was an official
named Imhotep. At this period, literacy was mainly confined to such officials
and their households. Many of these officials served as part-time priests in the
cult places of deities and deceased kings.16 Imhotep, who was a priest of the sun
god at Heliopolis, was later credited with writing a book of wisdom. This
earned him a place as the first of Egypt’s great sages and eventual deification
(see “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). The tradition may reflect an actual advance
in the uses of writing at this period.
The development of long, connected texts only seems to have taken place
in Egypt centuries after the introduction of writing. An incomplete naos (inner
shrine) from Heliopolis that dates to Djoser’s reign is carved with some of the
earliest known integrated texts and reliefs. The images of the gods shown in the
carvings on the naos are accompanied by short speeches saying what they will
do for the king. These images may be the oldest surviving representation of the
Ennead of Heliopolis, a group of nine deities that was very important in the creation
myths recorded in later times. Some of these myths could already have
been current, but whether they were written down or existed only in oral form
is not clear. A type of religious text that does seem to have developed in this period
was the topographical list.17 This listed deities according to their cult
places and summarized their functions and qualities with epithets. Some epi-
8 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
thets, such as Horus, “protector of his father,” suggest the existence of a story
behind them.
In the Fourth Dynasty the king’s role was redefined as being “‘the son of Ra,”
the deputy of the sun god on earth. Sneferu, the first king of the Fourth Dynasty,
was one of Egypt’s greatest builders. Three pyramids were completed in his reign,
each with two temples for the funerary cult of the king. Later literary tradition
was favorable to Sneferu but not to his successor Khufu (Cheops), the builder of
the Great Pyramid at Giza (see under “Kings and Princes” and “Magicians” in
“Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). Writing in the fifth century BCE, the Greek
historian Herodotus reported a legend that King Khufu had been cursed by the
gods for closing down their temples to divert resources to his pyramid.
Archaeological evidence suggests an element of truth to this tradition.
Local temples seem to have received little royal support during the Fourth and
Fifth Dynasties. The huge pyramid complexes of this era seem to concentrate
wholly on the divinity of the king, but this is partly an accident of preservation.
Reliefs and statues in the badly damaged pyramid temples did once show the
king interacting with many of the deities of Egypt. Pyramid complexes have
been interpreted as “resurrection machines” for the king and as models of the
Egyptian cosmos, making them a kind of mythology in solid form.18 The kings
of the Fifth Dynasty had smaller pyramids, but several of them built magnificent
temples for the sun god.
The favored elite who served Old Kingdom rulers were rewarded with beautifully
decorated tombs in the royal cemeteries. Many of these tomb owners had
personal names that linked them with deities, such as Ptah-hotep (“the god
Ptah is satisfied”). The inscriptions in their tombs tell us that many of them
were part-time priests in the temples and shrines of deities, but at this period it
was not permissible to show even a statue of a deity in a private tomb. The prevailing
reticence about religion in daily life makes it difficult to know much
about the gods at this period. A rich new source of evidence appeared in the
twenty-fourth century BCE, when hieroglyphic inscriptions were carved inside
the pyramid tomb of King Weni (Unas). These inscriptions, composed in the
language known as Old Egyptian, are now called the Pyramid Texts.
The Pyramid Texts
The Pyramid Texts are the oldest of the three principal collections of Egyptian
funerary literature.19 They are also among the earliest religious writings known
from anywhere in the world. The texts are divided into sections; each is preceded
by an Egyptian phrase meaning “words to be spoken” but sometimes translated

as “spell” or “incantation.” These
incantations can be as short as a
single sentence or many paragraphs
long. The pyramid of King
Weni contains around 300 incantations,
but more than 800 are
currently known. Pyramid Texts
have been found in the pyramids
of five Old Kingdom kings and
three queens. No two pyramids
have exactly the same selection.
No illustrations accompany
the Pyramid Texts, though the
ceilings of royal burial chambers
were usually decorated with stars.
Many hieroglyphic signs consist
of images of living creatures.
In the writing of the Pyramid
Texts, potentially harmful creatures
such as snakes, scorpions,
and some kinds of birds and
people are often shown dismembered
or skewered with knives.
This suggests that there was a
strong fear of the latent power of
images during this period.
The texts themselves seem to
have been adapted from a variety
of genres, such as hymns, lists of
divine names and epithets, spells
from the type of magic used in
daily life, and the “recitations” that accompanied ritual actions. Many were
composed in the first person and would have been highly dramatic when spoken
or chanted aloud. Some of the incantations may have been passed down
orally for many generations and only written down when the Pyramid Texts
were first assembled. The majority of the texts probably belong to the “secret
knowledge” written on leather or papyrus rolls, which is known to have been
kept in the libraries attached to some Old Kingdom palaces and temples. The
composing, copying, and reading out of these sacred books were the province of
a special class of priests, known as lector priests. No actual books of this kind
10 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 2. A section of the Pyramid Texts in the
antechamber of the pyramid of King Weni. The
antechamber represented the Akhet, the place where
the dead king would be transformed and rise again
like the sun above the horizon. (Courtesy of Princeton
University)
have survived from the Old Kingdom, and they are rare from later periods too.
No major temple library has ever been discovered intact, and this gap is one of
many in the sources for Egyptian myth.
The main purpose of assembling these texts and inscribing them inside
pyramids was to help the body of the deceased king to escape the horror of putrefaction
and his spirit to ascend to the celestial realm where he would take
his place among the gods. Some of the texts were probably recited during the
king’s funeral or as part of the mortuary cult that continued after his death.
Others may have been intended to be spoken by the deceased king as he entered
the afterlife. In this type of incantation, the king took on the role of many different
deities.
Around 200 deities are mentioned in the Pyramid Texts. Some are the
major deities already known from cult temples, such the fertility god Min and
the creator goddess Neith. Others are entities such as snake deities and celestial
ferrymen who inhabit a complex and intensely imagined realm of the
gods. The most frequently mentioned deities are Anubis, Atum, Geb, Horus,
Isis, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ra, Seth, Shu, and Thoth (see “Deities, Themes,
and Concepts”). These include most of the deities who make up the Ennead of
Heliopolis, and it is often argued that the Pyramid Texts largely represent the
theology of the solar temple at Heliopolis. A stellar element was also important
in the Pyramid Texts. The king was destined to join the “imperishable
stars,” and the god Osiris was identified with the constellation of Orion and
the goddess Isis with the Dog Star, Sirius.20 The cult of Osiris is hardly known
before the Fifth Dynasty, but he gradually became the most important funerary
god.
One thing the Pyramid Texts are not is a collection of narrative myths.
They do contain numerous allusions to myths, many of which are difficult to
interpret. Some passages include what have been called “mythical statements.”
These give the bare outlines of an event that has taken place in the divine
realm, such as “Horus comes and Thoth appears. They raise up Osiris from
upon his side and make him stand erect in front of the two Enneads.”21
Many of the most important themes of Egyptian mythology, such as the
journey of the sun god in his solar barque, the murder of the good god Osiris,
and the violent conflict between Horus and Seth, are already present in the
Pyramid Texts. These texts are also the earliest source for the complex array of
myths and symbols that the Egyptians constructed on the theme of creation.
The gods as depicted in the Pyramid Texts often seem violent, hostile, and terrifying
beings, and this is a consistent picture in Egyptian funerary texts.
Near the end of the Sixth Dynasty, sections of the Pyramid Texts began to be
used in the tombs of important but nonroyal people in various parts of Egypt.
Introduction 11
This has been seen as one of the symptoms of a breakdown of royal authority
that led to the fall of the Old Kingdom.22 In the twenty-second century BCE, Egypt
entered a time of disunity, which historians call the First Intermediate Period.
There were still kings ruling from Memphis, but they did not control the
whole country. A rival dynasty emerged from a place called Herakleopolis. One
of these kings was traditionally credited with writing the remarkable work
known as the Teaching for King Merikare. This text mentions a brutal civil war
in which the king had been involved. Later Egyptian literature generally portrayed
the First Intermediate Period as a time of chaos and misery when the
gods had withdrawn their blessing.
Only one First Intermediate Period king had a pyramid inscribed with
Pyramid Texts, but they continued to be used in some private burials.23 A group
who benefited from the relaxation of royal authority was the nomarchs (provincial
governors). These nomarchs had close ties with their local temples, and it
was probably among the priesthood of these temples that an innovative new
body of funerary texts began to develop. The independence of the nomarchs and
the period of disunity were brought to an end in the late twenty-first century
BCE by a king called Nebhepetra Montuhotep (Mentuhotep), who came from the
southern city of Thebes.
MIDDLE KINGDOM AND SECOND INTERMEDIATE
PERIOD (DYNASTIES 11–17): C. 2055–1550 BCE
Once Nebhepetra Montuhotep was established as king of all Egypt, he ruled
from Memphis, but he built shrines for important gods all over the country. He
was eventually buried at western Thebes in a mortuary complex whose chief
feature seems to have been a representation of the Primeval Mound, the place
where creation began.
In the twentieth century BCE, kings of the Twelfth Dynasty built a new
royal residence called Itjtawy and were buried under pyramids at various desert
sites. None of these royal tombs was inscribed inside. Elaborate temples for the
royal mortuary cult were built near these pyramids, but none of them has survived
in good condition. Nor have many of the temples built for deities during
this period survived. One tantalizing text known as the Ramesseum Dramatic
Papyrus seems to be the script for a religious ritual in which the king took part
in the reenactment of mythical events, such as the coronation of the god Horus
(see Figure 3).24
More is known about the religious life of the government officials and their
families who formed the elite of Egyptian society. In their decorated tombs, no-

marchs could be shown presiding over religious festivals and venerating sacred
objects. Other modes of religious activity and belief could be presented in encoded
ways.25 Short hymns to deities, of the type that might have been sung at
festivals, start to be written on tomb walls or funerary stelae. The coffins in
elite burials of this period were sometimes painted with texts and scenes that
formed part of the second of the major collections of funerary literature: the
Coffin Texts (CT).
The Coffin Texts
Coffin Texts is a modern name for the diverse body of spells or recitations used
on burial equipment during the Middle Kingdom. These texts were mainly
painted on wooden coffins, but they also appeared on tomb walls and on funerary
items such as stelae and canopic chests. The Coffin Texts were composed in
Middle Egyptian, a form of the Egyptian language that became standard for literary
works. The texts were usually written in cursive (simplified) hieroglyphs,
but some examples are in hieratic, a script developed for administrative and lit-

erary uses. Modern editors of the Coffin Texts have so far assembled 1,185 different
spells. Only a small selection of these was used in any one burial.
Many spells in the Coffin Texts are also known from versions in the
Pyramid Texts. Both collections may derive from an archive of mortuary texts
written on papyrus that does not survive. Some of the Coffin Texts spells are
given titles that define their function, such as Spell for Navigating in the Great
Barque of Ra, or include instructions for the rituals that should accompany
them. A few spells incorporate elaborate glosses to explain obscure passages.
These may reflect the way that religious knowledge was expounded among the
elite. Some spells are monologues spoken in the person of a deity, beginning
with phrases such as “I am the Inundation-deity who provides food”(CT 320);
others are dialogues between deities that amount to miniature religious dramas.
A few sections of the Coffin Texts have vignettes: illustrations that form an integral
part of the spell. The most elaborate of these are the maps that belong to
a section of the Coffin Texts known as the Book of Two Ways (see Figure 4). 26
These maps, which were usually painted on the floor of coffins, are the earliest
known maps from any culture. The Book of Two Ways was nothing less
than an illustrated guidebook to the afterlife. It claimed to give two routes (by
water and by land) through a sinister divine realm beyond the horizon and to
provide the deceased with the spells they would need to get past the monstrous
guardians they would meet on the way. The deceased had to pass through the
mysterious region of Rosetau, where the body of Osiris lay surrounded by walls
of flame. If the deceased man or woman proved worthy, he or she might be
granted a new life in a paradise called the Field of Offerings. The Book of Two
Ways has been described by Erik Hornung as representing “the results of government-
funded research into the hereafter,”27 but research may be too academic
a word. The extraordinary visual detail in which the afterlife is presented
has a hallucinatory quality similar to that of the “spirit voyages” induced by
shamans in many cultures. 28
Although they are not narratives, some spells in the Coffin Texts describe
major events in the Egyptian creation story and even provide evidence for
Egyptian views about the end of the world (see “Return to Chaos” under
“Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). The creator god Atum-Ra and his
offspring Shu and Tefnut are particularly prominent. Many texts deal with
transformations of the sun god into various forms. A new element is a stress on
the dangers faced by the sun god during his celestial voyages, such as attacks by
the chaos monster Apophis. The prominence of the solar cult leads some
Egyptologists to believe that the Coffin Texts were, like the Pyramid Texts,
mainly generated by the priests of Heliopolis. Other Egyptologists point to the
huge range of deities that feature in this collection and see the Coffin Texts as
being more representative of regional traditions.29
Coffin Texts spells have been found in sites all over Egypt, but the majority
come from the geographical region known as Middle Egypt. The local deities of
Middle Egypt, such as Thoth and the group of primeval beings later known as
the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, feature in many of the spells. Thoth also appears in
many of the spells that allude to the conflict between Horus and Seth and the
Introduction 15
rescue of the body of Osiris. By the time of the Coffin Texts, all the elite dead
could be identified with Osiris, the god who died and rose again.
Literature
The same learned class of priest-officials who composed or used the Coffin
Texts were also the writers and readers of Middle Kingdom literature. The
hymns that were sung to deities each dawn in temples and when statues of
deities left their sanctuaries during festivals can contain beautiful poetry.30
Such hymns were sometimes copied onto papyrus to be enjoyed as literature
or inscribed on stelae dedicated by pious individuals. Middle Kingdom hymns
mainly consist of sequences of divine epithets, but these can be helpful in
reconstructing the myths that may have been current about deities in this
period.
Popular in the Middle Kingdom were texts in which a father instructs his
son on the right way to behave in life. These are often known as Instruction or
Wisdom Texts. One of the topics Instruction Texts deal with is the proper relationship
between humanity and the gods, so they sometimes allude to mythical
events, such as the sun god’s decision to destroy rebellious humanity. Other literary
works that deal with ethical issues are in the form of prophecies or dialogues
between a man and a supernatural being.31
In a text comparable to the biblical Book of Job, a man named Ipuur
(Ipuwer) questions the Lord of All about why suffering and injustice are rife in
Egypt. The god’s replies are not very well preserved in the only surviving
manuscript, but the gist is that people must accept responsibility for their own
actions.32 Some Egyptologists assign the Dialogue of Ipuur to a genre of pessimistic
literature that describes Egypt as a society in chaos. It used to be
thought that these texts were written during the turbulent First Intermediate
Period or very shortly afterward, but they have now been redated to the high
Middle Kingdom or even to the Second Intermediate Period. The texts mythologize
the past in order to praise the present or predict the future. They see Egypt
as a battleground in a continuing cosmic struggle between order and chaos.
Literary narratives had developed by this period, though only a few have
survived. There was almost certainly a parallel tradition of oral storytelling.
Most Egyptian texts were intended for reading aloud, and stories could have
passed from an oral tradition into a written one and back again, as they have in
Arab storytelling in more recent times.33 In some Middle Kingdom stories, gods
feature as characters. If the definition of myth as “stories about gods” is accepted,
these narratives might count as myths, but they are really about people
16 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
who happen to encounter gods. Another common definition of myth is “stories
about the world of the gods,” but these Middle Kingdom tales are set in the human
world, sometimes in a specific historical period.
A series of linked stories set in the Third and Fourth Dynasties describes
marvels performed by the magicians of this era, such as transforming a wax
crocodile into a real one.34 In the framing story, five deities disguise themselves
as people to help a mortal woman who is about to give birth to triplets destined
to be kings. An incomplete story tells of an alarming encounter between a
herdsman and a seductive goddess.35 Another relates how an official sent on a
mission was shipwrecked on a mysterious island.36 There he encounters a giant
serpent who seems to be a form of the creator sun god.
One Middle Kingdom narrative that only features divine characters is a
fragmentary story about the attempted seduction of Horus by Seth, an event alluded
to in the Pyramid Texts. Some Egyptologists refuse to class this as a genuine
myth because it may have formed part of a spell used in healing magic.37
Magic and Popular Religion
Heka, the Egyptian term usually translated as “magic,” was one of the forces
used by the creator to make the world. Humans were permitted to use magic in
daily life to protect themselves or to heal others. Knowledge of written magic
was confined to the literate elite, so it is not surprising that some spells have a
distinct literary quality. Healing spells often identify the doctor-magician with
a deity skilled in the use of heka, such as Isis or Thoth; the patient with a deity
who suffered in myth, such as Horus the Child (see “Deities, Themes, and
Concepts”); and the disease or problem with a hostile supernatural force.
These identifications were sometimes extended into a narrative of the misfortune
that befell the deity and its ultimate resolution. A complex story about
the poisoning of the sun god, known as the True Name of Ra (see “Period of
Direct Rule by the Creator Sun God” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time
Lines”), is an example that may have been composed as early as the Middle
Kingdom. By creating these links, the doctor-magician hoped to mobilize cosmic
forces to act on behalf of the patient as they once had on behalf of the deity.
J. F. Borghouts, who has edited and translated many of the magical texts, commented
that although some mythical themes that occur in spells are not known
from other sources, “There is, however, not a shred of proof that a specific kind
of ‘unorthodox’ mythology was especially coined à bout portant for this
genre.”38 Indeed, the efficacy of such spells may have partly depended on the patients’
being familiar with the story of which they were being made a part.
Introduction 17
Similar links between human and divine events were created in visual form
on magical objects of the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period.
Ivory wands that were used to protect newborn children and their mothers
show a wide array of divine beings, some in monstrous forms (see Figure 30).
Many of these have been identified with the deities of Middle Egypt who feature
in the Coffin Texts. Brief inscriptions on some of the wands state that
these deities have come to fight on behalf of a particular child. The wands seem
to be based on a myth of an endangered divine child hundreds of years before
such a myth is clearly delineated in narrative sources. Some of the creatures
shown on the wands, such as the griffin, feature in Egyptian animal fables
known from much later periods.
The wands suggest an almost lost world of oral traditions concerning the
gods. They were also among the first private objects to include depictions of
deities, although most of these are not in the formal style found in temples. The
late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period were times of intellectual
and religious change. At the height of the Twelfth Dynasty, the power
and influence of the provincial elites had been suppressed by the crown. This
seems to have been one of the factors that led to a decline in the use of the
Coffin Texts.
By the Thirteenth Dynasty royal authority was also in decline, and this
may have led to greater freedom of expression in religious art and literature.
Images of deities started to be shown on votive objects dedicated by nonroyal
people, particularly in the holy city of Abydos. Middle Kingdom inscriptions
tell of festivals at Abydos in which large numbers of people joined in ceremonies
that reenacted key events in the myth of Osiris.39 It was around this
time that an ancient royal tomb at Abydos was reidentified as the burial place
of Osiris. This merging of mythical and physical geography was to become increasingly
characteristic of Egyptian culture.
That culture seemed to suffer a setback when a Palestinian dynasty took
control of the Delta region of northern Egypt during the seventeenth century
BCE. These foreign rulers, known as the Hyksos, established a capital at Avaris,
a region where Seth was the leading deity. Seth was equated with the
Palestinian god Baal, and the worship of foreign goddesses such as Astarte and
Anat (see “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”) seems to have been introduced into
Egypt at this time.
Hyksos kings called themselves Sons of Ra, but one of them bore the name
of Ra’s archenemy Apophis.40 A legend tells how King Apophis picked a quarrel
with the Egyptian ruler of the Theban area by complaining that the roaring of
the hippopotami kept 500 miles away in Thebes was disturbing his sleep.41 This
New Kingdom story restates the political conflict in mythological terms by
18 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
making it into a fight between the Followers of Horus (the Thebans) and the
hippopotamus-worshipping Followers of Seth (the Hyksos). The Theban rulers
who made up the Seventeenth Dynasty gradually drove the Hyksos out of
Egypt. Under the Seventeenth Dynasty, a new collection of funerary texts developed
that was to become the famous Book of the Dead. The expulsion of the
Hyksos was completed by King Ahmose I (c.1550–1525 BCE). The Egyptians considered
him to be the first king of a new dynasty and a new era.
NEW KINGDOM (DYNASTIES 18–20)
AND THIRD INTERMEDIATE PERIOD (DYNASTIES 21–24):
C. 1550–747 BCE
Ahmose, and the other warrior kings of the early Eighteenth Dynasty, took
Egyptian armies as far as the Euphrates. They established an empire in Syria
and Palestine and took control of much of Nubia. In the late sixteenth century
BCE, the royal court moved back to Memphis, but Thebes became the religious
capital. Most New Kingdom rulers were buried there in underground tombs in
the desert wadi now known as the Valley of the Kings (see Figure 5). The offering
cults for the dead kings were carried out in separate mortuary temples some
way from their tombs. Amun, who had been the most important god in Thebes
since the Middle Kingdom, united with the sun god and became the King of the
Gods. The temple of Amun at Karnak in eastern Thebes developed into the
biggest and richest temple complex in Egypt.
The Eighteenth Dynasty is often considered the high point of Egyptian culture.
Much great art and architecture was produced during the reigns of Queen
Hatshepsut (c. 1473–1458 BCE); her nephew and stepson, King Thutmose
(Tuthmosis) III (c. 1479–1425 BCE); and the latter’s great-grandson, Amenhotep
(Amenophis) III (c. 1390–1352 BCE). Hatshepsut’s famous mortuary temple at
Deir el-Bahri in Thebes had many innovative features, such as an open court for
solar worship inscribed with a summary of the ruler’s secret knowledge about
the sun god. 42 Both Hatshepsut and Thutmose III built special shrines where ordinary
people could come to pray to deities such as the goddess Hathor in her
cow form or Amun “of the Hearing Ear.”43 Amenhotep III enlarged or founded
numerous temples, and many of the features introduced by his architects remained
standard for c. 1,500 years. He commissioned huge numbers of divine
statues to stress his identification with all the deities of Egypt. Amenhotep III
sometimes gave himself the attributes of a lunar deity while his chief wife,
Queen Tiy, was identified with the goddesses who could play the role of the solar
eye (see “Eye of Ra” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”).44

Amenhotep III and Tiy were the parents of Amenhotep IV (c. 1352–1336
BCE), who early in his reign changed his name to Akhenaten. King Akhenaten
and his chief wife, Nefertiti, were dedicated to the cult of Aten, a form of the
sun god represented by the solar disk. Akhenaten built huge temples for Aten
that were open to the sky. He established a new capital and a new royal burial
ground at Akhetaten (modern Tell el-Amarna). Akhenaten suppressed the cult
of Amun, but the idea that he closed down all of Egypt’s temples seems to be an
exaggeration.45 In Akhenaten’s theology the worship of Aten as the creator sun
god and the king as his representative on earth made other deities and their
myths superfluous. Belief in a separate realm of the dead ruled by Osiris was replaced
by the idea that spirits of the dead could live on in the Aten temples.
Akhenaten’s religious and political policies were not popular, and under the
boy king Tutankhamun (Tutankhamon) (c. 1336–1327 BCE), Thebes was reestablished
as the religious capital and Amun-Ra as the national god. Horemheb (c.
1323–1295 BCE), the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, presented Akhenaten’s
reign as a time of chaos in which the gods had abandoned Egypt. Horemheb was
succeeded by his vizier Rameses (Ramses, Ramesses), the founder of the
Nineteenth Dynasty. Rameses’ son, Seti (Sety) I (c. 1294–1279 BCE), was a vigorous
king who reestablished Egyptian authority over parts of Syria, but the art of
his reign has a serene beauty. Seti’s son Rameses II ruled Egypt for sixty-seven
20 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 5. View of the desert hills at western Thebes showing the pyramid-shaped mountain peak
that overlooks the Valley of the Kings. (Courtesy of Richard Pinch)
years and became a legend in the ancient world for his grandiose achievements.
His battles against the Hittite empire were celebrated in narratives, poetry, and
pictures on the walls of the numerous temples he constructed in Egypt and
Nubia. Rameses eventually made peace with the Hittites and married two
Hittite princesses. He constructed a new capital in the eastern Delta, but he did
not neglect Thebes. The 21-meter-high columns of the central hall at Karnak
built under Seti I and Rameses II give a sense of limitless power.
After Rameses’ long and prosperous reign, the international situation became
more difficult for Egypt. His son Merenptah had to fight off invasions by
the Libyans and the mass migration known as the Sea Peoples. The same enemies
in even greater numbers faced Rameses III (c. 1184–1153 BCE), the second
king of the Twentieth Dynasty. He defeated them by sea and land in battles that
are recorded on the walls of his fortresslike mortuary temple at Medinet Habu.
This whole temple is a monument to the triumph of order over chaos, but
Rameses III was the last great temple builder of the New Kingdom.
Temples and Kings
Throughout the New Kingdom much of the wealth generated by the empire and
by the exploitation of Egyptian and Nubian gold fields was spent on building
and endowing temples. All over the country the small, mainly mud-brick, temples
that had been common in earlier periods were replaced by large stone structures
whose walls were carved with hieroglyphic texts and scenes of kings with
deities. Major temples were like small towns, with their own granaries, slaughterhouses,
workshops, offices, schools, libraries, and housing. Large numbers of
priests, some working full-time, were needed to run such temples.46
Like the pyramid complexes of the Old Kingdom, New Kingdom temples
were models of the Egyptian cosmos.47 The undulating mud-brick walls that
surrounded temples may have represented the primeval waters that were
thought to surround the inhabited world. Sacred lakes were used for reenactments
of myths of the emergence of the creator from the primeval waters or for
the pacification of his fiery daughter, the Eye goddess. In the outer courtyard
the king was represented in reliefs or colossal statues as the champion of maat.
The battles that he was shown fighting were sometimes real and sometimes
imaginary, but the foreign enemies always represented the forces of chaos.48
The massive pylon gateways resemble defensive structures, but they also stood
for the mountains of the eastern horizon, between which the sun rose. The
plant-shaped columns of the inner halls formed a stone replica of the marsh
where gods were born or reborn. The innermost sanctuary that contained the

cult statue was said to be built on the Primeval Mound, the very place in which
the creator first brought forth life.
Each temple was dedicated to one main deity, but in the New Kingdom it
became common to group deities into divine “families,” with subsidiary temples
for the chief deity’s consort and child. So at Karnak, for example, Amun
was worshipped as part of a triad, with Mut as his consort and Khonsu as his
son. Not all these groupings seem to have been based on existing myths, but
some of them eventually generated myths to explain features of their cult. The
relationships between deities could be expressed by moving divine statues between
temples during religious festivals. These processions, in which the god
was carried inside a boat-shaped shrine, gave ordinary people their only chance
to get close to the sacred images of their deities.
The names of some of the festivals listed in temple calendars suggest that
reenactments of myths were involved, but such reenactments were rarely depicted.
The majority of New Kingdom temple reliefs show a ritualized exchange
between the king representing humanity and a deity representing the divine
realm. The king makes offerings or performs rituals. The god responds with a
gesture or an object that symbolizes the bestowal of divine gifts, such as long
22 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 6. The Osireion at Abydos was built to represent both the Primeval Mound and the tomb of
the god Osiris. (Courtesy of Richard Pinch)
life or power. Among exceptions are scenes that form a narrative sequence
about the divine conception and birth of rulers such as Hatshepsut, Amenhotep
III, and Rameses II.49
It is typical of Egyptian pictorial narratives that some incidents or details
are only found in the text whereas others are shown only in the reliefs. The
text, for instance, describes a sensuous encounter between a queen and the god
Amun, who has taken the form of her husband in order to sleep with her. The
accompanying relief complies with the strict rules of Egyptian art and shows
the god, in his usual appearance, barely touching the queen’s hand (see
Figure 20). The queen gives birth to the future ruler surrounded by deities who
will nurse and protect the child and its spirit-double, the ka. This royal birth
scene may be based on mythical prototypes, but it predates all the known depictions
of the birth of infant gods. Greek myth has equivalent stories of Zeus’s
disguising himself to seduce mortal women, but their focus is on very human
emotions of lust and jealousy. The seductions by Zeus are set in a mythical age
of heroes, and the god’s behavior may be criticized. In Egypt, such stories were a
solemn part of the myth of divine kingship and were told about living people.
Each Egyptian king was the “son” of the supreme creator god Amun-Ra but
also Horus, the avenger of his father, Osiris. Some New Kingdom rulers took a
renewed interest in the holy city of Abydos and the cult of Osiris. Ironically, the
finest temple at Abydos was built by Seti I, a king who was named after Seth,
the great enemy of Osiris.50 This temple of Seti I is so large and well preserved
that its scenes and inscriptions have been used to reconstruct the daily ritual
that went on in every Egyptian temple. This ritual was influenced by the concept
of the daily rebirth of the sun god and by the myth of the death and resurrection
of Osiris.51
Some episodes from the Osiris myth are shown in the temple of Seti I, with
the king in the role of Horus. These include a very rare depiction of Isis in bird
form magically conceiving Horus by sexually arousing her murdered husband.
This was a moment of triumph and hope, but it was still not intended to be
seen by any but the highest grade of priests. The murder of Osiris was not
shown on the walls of Seti’s temple, but he was celebrated as a dead god in a remarkable
building known as the Osireion (see Figure 6).52 This was built in the
style of an ancient royal tomb. A long passage leads down to an underground
hall where a sarcophagus once stood on an artificial island surrounded by water,
providing a symbolic tomb for the king. An adjoining chamber is inscribed with
the images and texts that form the Book of Nut, a major source for reconstructing
Egyptian cosmology.
A hymn inscribed on a New Kingdom private stela from Abydos provides
the most detailed account in Egyptian of the Osiris myth.53 After the usual lists
Introduction 23
of divine epithets, there is a section of narrative verse that begins with Osiris
“appearing on his father’s throne” and ends with Horus being acclaimed as his
rightful successor. If this were our only source for the myth, the story would be
very difficult to follow because the actual death of Osiris is not mentioned and
his enemy is only identified as “the disturber.” Rules still prevented explicit
images of those moments when maat was threatened by terrible events. There
was one place in which it did become permissible to show the forces that daily
threatened the divine balance, and that was in New Kingdom royal tombs. In
the great crisis of death, the king needed to identify with gods in crisis and
share in their triumph in overcoming the forces of destruction.
Underworld Books
Underworld Book is a general term for a type of mortuary text used in royal
tombs and cenotaphs of the New Kingdom. It is taken from an Egyptian term
for the genre to which these books belonged: “that which is in the underworld.”
The earliest of these books, the Book of the Hidden Chamber (now known as
the Amduat), may be derived from solar rituals performed by the king at
Heliopolis and other temples. The versions on the walls of the tomb of
Thutmose III and his successor Amenhotep II look as if they have been directly
copied from a papyrus scroll (e.g. Figure 45). This gives us an idea of what these
temple copies must have been like.
By the end of the New Kingdom about twelve different books were in use.54
They were painted on the walls or ceilings of the tomb or inscribed on important
items of burial equipment such as shrines and shrouds. The books were
composed in Middle Egyptian, but the later ones show considerable influence
from Late Egyptian, a form of the language current in writing from the late
Eighteenth Dynasty onward. The texts are all written in hieroglyphs, but sometimes
in ways that make them difficult to read. These books contained very restricted
knowledge, which was supposed to be known only to the king and
people who held high-ranking priestly offices.
The purpose of the Underworld Books was to maintain the cosmos and,
secondarily, to aid the king’s transition to the afterlife through his identification
with the sun god. Their common theme was the daily journey of the sun god,
Ra-Atum. Most concentrated on his perilous passage through the night sky,
which was equated with the underworld. The dangerous journey is probably the
world’s oldest narrative motif, but the Underworld Books are not presented as
stories. The structure of the books is provided by the passing of time55 or by the
geography of the underworld, which was imagined as divided into caverns or re-
24 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
gions separated by guarded gates. Every Underworld Book presents a different
view of the topography of the afterlife, yet from the late Eighteenth Dynasty on,
royal tombs included more than one book in their decoration.56
The pictorial element is dominant in most of the Underworld Books. With
a few exceptions, the text is mainly in the form of captions to the images.
Underworld Books such as the Book of Gates and the Book of Caverns are essentially
more detailed forms of the maps of the underworld found on Middle
Kingdom coffins. Each hour or gate or cavern is represented by giant tableaux of
hundreds of deities, demons, and monsters. Some Egyptologists have called
such groupings “image-clusters.” Individual symbols can modify their meaning
when incorporated into one of these clusters.
These secret books admit the vulnerabilty of the divine order and illustrate
the ordeals faced by the creator sun god. Virtually the entire cast of Egyptian
mythology is drawn in to crew the sun boat and defend the sun god from
Apophis and the other chaos monsters. Even more remarkably, the corpses of
Osiris and the rest of the dead can be shown waiting for their temporary revival
by the sun god in the sixth hour of the night. The Osireion at Abydos was probably
constructed as a setting for this mystical union between Ra and Osiris.
In two compositions that are often counted as Underworld Books, the Book
of the Heavenly Cow and the Litany of Ra, the genre develops in different directions.
The former is centered on a complex image of the sky goddess in cow form
(see Figure 26), but part of the text is a lively narrative about why Ra felt driven
to leave earth after crushing a rebellion among humanity (see “The Destruction
of Humanity” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). This story may
have originated in a dawn myth first recorded in the Pyramid Texts,57 but by the
New Kingdom it had changed into something more profound. Ra is credited with
human emotions of anger, bitterness, and pity, and the story answers the important
question of why creation includes pain and death.
In contrast, the book known as the Litany of Ra conveys the utter mysteriousness
of the creator sun god through heightened language and powerful visual
images. The sun god is evoked as the animating force behind the universe in
seventy-five nocturnal manifestations. These manifestations range from major
deities such as Horus and Isis to obscure entities such as the “Great Tom Cat”
and “He of the Cave,” yet part of the Egyptian title for this book was “adoring
the united one in the west.” The characteristic acts of independent beings that
are the mainspring of mythical narratives become almost irrelevant in such a
context.
New Kingdom hymns, such as those preserved in Papyrus Leiden I 350, explore
the idea that all deities are aspects of the creator. They speculate on the
miraculous process by which the one creator, usually named as Amun-Ra, was
Introduction 25
able to divide himself into many.58 The worship of the creator sun god as the
maintainer of the universe was widespread among the Egyptian elite. Solar
hymns celebrating the day and night voyages of Ra were inscribed at the entrances
to some New Kingdom private tombs or on statues of priests and officials.
By the end of the New Kingdom, a version of the Litany of Ra was appended
to the mortuary texts known as the Book of the Dead.
The Book of the Dead
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a term coined in the nineteenth century CE
for a body of texts known to the Ancient Egyptians as the Spells for Going Forth
by Day. After the Book of the Dead was first translated by Egyptologists, it
gained a place in the popular imagination as the Bible of the Ancient Egyptians.
The comparison is very inappropriate. The Book of the Dead was not the central
holy book of Egyptian religion. It was just one of a series of manuals composed
to assist the spirits of the elite dead to achieve and maintain a full afterlife.
The collection was used for over a thousand years and eventually consisted
of more than 190 spells or “formulas.” Individual copies of the Book of the
Dead vary greatly in the number and selection of spells they include. The order
of the spells did not become fixed until around 650 BCE. In the New Kingdom,
spells from the Book of the Dead were occasionally inscribed on items of funerary
equipment such as shrouds and coffins or on the walls of royal tombs and
mortuary temples. The majority of copies were on papyrus. These were included
in the burials of wealthy priests, priestesses, and officials.
The spells in the Book of the Dead were most commonly written out in hieroglyphs
or in a cursive (simplified) form of the hieroglyphic script. The majority
of the spells are in Middle Egyptian. By the New Kingdom, the spoken language
had changed considerably, so the number of people who could understand
texts in archaic Middle Egyptian would have been very restricted. This may be
one of the reasons why the vignettes to the Book of the Dead became increasingly
important. By the end of the New Kingdom nearly every spell had its traditional
vignette. In some copies the illustrations alone are used to represent
the spells they should accompany. The vignettes can also occur as tomb decoration,
since from the fourteenth century BCE onward it became acceptable to
show deities on the walls of private tombs.
Copies of the Book of the Dead have been found all over Egypt, but the
temples of Thebes seem to have been the main center of production. Many of
the spells were adapted from earlier funerary literature, particularly the Coffin
Texts.
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In Spell 17, quotations from the Coffin Texts are interspersed with com-

mentaries headed “this means.” In these explanatory passages, ancient creation
myths are reinterpreted in terms of later theology. This is a clear example of the
way in which the meaning and functions of Egyptian myths could change from
period to period.
Many deities are mentioned or depicted in the Book of the Dead, but the afterlife
that the spells envisage is dominated by two gods, Ra and Osiris. Some of
the spells concerning Ra were adapted from solar hymns used in temples. The
spirits of the dead could join the “crew” of the sun boat or seek a place at the
court of Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. Most of the spells designed to help
nourish and protect the spirit on its journey to these destinations were based on
earlier prototypes, but there was a new emphasis on judging the past life of the
deceased.
This is seen most clearly in Spell 125, the formula for “descending to the
great hall of the Double Maat.” Before the throne of Osiris, the deceased had to
face a jury of gods and goddesses and declare himself or herself innocent of
forty-two specific sins. Most of the sins in this negative confession are offenses
Introduction 27
Figure 7. Vignette to Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead. From right to left, a dead woman is brought
into the Hall of the Double Maat by the two goddesses of truth; her heart is weighed against the
feather of truth by Horus and Anubis; the result is recorded by Thoth and announced to the Ammut
monster, the four sons of Horus, and Osiris. (Gift of Martin Brimmer, Courtesy Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston. Illustration by Peter Manuelian used with permission.)
against deities, temples, or ritual purity, so Spell 125 may derive from an initiation
ritual for priests.59 The vignette for Spell 125 supplements rather than illustrates
the text. In one of the most famous of all Egyptian images, the heart of
the deceased person is shown being weighed against the feather that represents
Maat, the goddess of truth. If the heart were found to be heavy with sin, it
would be devoured by a monster.
In origin, this trial was just one of a series of perils that could be overcome
by magic, but the popularity of Spell 125 in the later New Kingdom coincided
with a new emphasis on god as a just but forgiving judge. In prayers of this period,
people turn to gods such as Thoth and Amun to help them survive in an
unjust society. Other individuals humbly acknowledged that their sufferings
were a just punishment for actions such as breaking an oath sworn in a god’s
name.60 These “penitential texts,” like much of our knowledge of religion in
daily life, come from Deir el-Medina, the village of the artists who built and
decorated the Theban royal tombs. This exceptionally well preserved desert site
was also the place where most New Kingdom literature was found.61
Mythology in Literature
Only about ten Late Egyptian narratives survive from the New Kingdom. The
authors of these stories obviously assumed that their readers would have a detailed
knowledge of Egyptian myth.
A story about a prince who is doomed by seven goddesses to be killed by a
snake, a crocodile, or a dog has been called the world’s oldest fairy tale. The
ending of the story is missing, but the prince was probably saved by the spirited
princess whose hand he wins in a jumping competition. The story known as
Truth and Lies has been interpreted as an allegorical version of the Osiris myth,
with the deities transformed into a dysfunctional human family.62 The plot involves
a son who grows up to avenge his father, Truth, and defeat the enemy,
Lies. In contrast to Isis, the hero’s mother is presented as lustful and heartless.
The female characters also prove to be evil in the story of the Two Brothers.
The hero is falsely accused of attempting to rape his brother’s wife and then betrayed
by the woman given to him as a wife by the gods. Many mythological
themes appear in semidisguised form in this story.63 The two brothers have the
same names as two gods (Anubis and Bata) and exhibit some superhuman powers.
The story is set in a time when, just beyond the borders of Egypt, it was
still possible to encounter gods and monsters. The motif of the sea’s attempts to
seize a beautiful female occurs both in the Two Brothers and in another New
28 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Kingdom tale about Seth’s fight with a god of the sea to save the goddess
Astarte. This seems to be a partially Egyptianized version of a foreign myth (see
“Astarte” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). Even more fragmentary tales
involve a woman who turns into a lioness and the god Heryshef’s recruitment
of a human to help him in his war with a divine falcon.64
The most controversial of the stories that date to the New Kingdom is the
Contendings of Horus and Seth. This is the longest narrative to survive about
the conflict between the two gods and its eventual resolution. That does not
mean that it should be taken as the most important or the standard version of
the myth. As many scholars have emphasized, a myth consists of all its versions.
This text is in narrative form because it appears to have been read aloud
for entertainment. It combines a retelling of the ancient myth with a satire on
the difficulties of obtaining justice in the New Kingdom legal system and perhaps
with veiled comments on recent problems with the royal succession.65
Some Egyptologists believe that the comic treatment of many of the characters
and events in the Contendings of Horus and Seth disqualifies it from being
a true myth, but a robust, often cruel, sense of humor is displayed in the
myths of many cultures. Some of the story’s more scandalous episodes, such as
Seth’s failed attempt to seduce his nephew Horus or Horus cutting off his
mother’s head in a tantrum, are also found in funerary and magical texts.
A devoted but dominating mother who gets her way through cunning and
magic, Isis is the first fully realized character in Egyptian myth. A New
Kingdom ostracon gives part of a story in which Isis and her attendant scorpions
take shelter with a fisherwoman (see “Serqet” in “Deities, Themes, and
Concepts”). This story was used hundreds of years later on magical statues and
stelae as part of a sequence of spells to drive out poison. Many of the myths
now known only from magical texts were probably adapted from other types of
source material or from oral tradition. Quite a number of spells survive on papyri
of the later New Kingdom. The Harris Magical Papyrus, now in the British
Museum, contains a sequence of anticrocodile spells that is full of allusions to
myths such as the rape of Isis.
Myths are often thought of as communal artifacts, but in Egyptian culture
they had many personal applications. Another example was the use of lists of
lucky and unlucky days, based on calendars of temple festivals. In the so-called
Cairo Calendar, each day of the year is associated with a particular deity or
mythical event.66 These associations were believed to affect what could be done
on a day, making the calendars rather similar to horoscopes. For example, the
twenty-ninth day of the second month of Peret (spring) was the day on which
the “children of Geb” had rebelled against the creator. “Do nothing on this
Introduction 29
day,” the calendar warns. Some entries summarize well-known mythical incidents,
such as the reconciliation of Horus and Seth; in contrast, others allude to
very obscure myths, such as that of “the lost children of Bedesh.”
The End of the New Kingdom
By the eleventh century BCE, the kings, who lived in the eastern Delta, seem to
have had little influence over the south of the country. The last king of the
Twentieth Dynasty, Rameses XI (c. 1099–1069 BCE), had a tomb cut in the
Valley of the Kings but was probably never buried in it. In the Theban area,
power had fallen into the hands of one family whose members served as generals
in the army and high priests in the temple of Karnak. Several members of
this family gave themselves royal titles, even after a new line of kings, the
Twenty-First Dynasty, took control in the north. A series of marriages between
the two families kept the peace.
Some of the most beautifully illustrated Books of the Dead were made for
royal and aristocratic women who served as priestesses in the temples of
Thebes during the eleventh and tenth centuries BCE (see, for example, Figure
24). It became the custom for elite burials to include a selection of spells from
the Book of the Dead and a papyrus based on one or more of the royal underworld
books. During this period most of the royal mummies were moved from
their original resting places by the Theban priesthood, so the secret Underworld
Books on the walls of their tombs became available for copying.67
The papyri based on Underworld Books are often referred to as “mythological
papyri.” They can consist almost entirely of drawings, with just a few brief
captions. Mythological episodes known from texts of the third millennium BCE
onward, such as the creator’s engendering life or the separation of the earth and
the sky, are illustrated for the first time on papyri and coffins of this period (see
for example, Figure 42). These extraordinary papyri illustrate the Egyptian tendency
to think in images. Language is rarely adequate to express the numinous.
Instead the Egyptian priesthood devised a complex system of visual symbols to
convey difficult concepts without the use of words.
In the ninth century BCE the production of funerary papyri suddenly
stopped. This may have been the result of disruptions in temple life caused by a
civil war between the Thebans and a new dynasty of kings in the north. The
kings of the Twenty-Second Dynasty were of Libyan descent, but they seem to
have completely adopted Egyptian religion. They favored the cult of the feline
goddess Bastet and rebuilt part of her temple at Bubastis. Reliefs in the Festival
Hall of Osorkon II (c. 874–850 BCE) show all the deities of Egypt gathering at
30 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Bubastis to honor the king’s jubilee. Bastet was one of the goddesses who could
take the role of the Eye of Ra, the fiery protector of the sun god and of every
king. The cycle of myths associated with the Eye goddess became increasingly
prominent during the first millennium BCE.
Most of the northern kings were buried in the city of Tanis, in tombs
within the temple of Amun-Ra. Some of these tombs have versions of New
Kingdom Underworld Books, such as the Book of the Day and the Book of the
Night, inscribed on their walls.68 The temples of Tanis were adorned with
Middle and New Kingdom statues brought from all over Egypt. This was probably
more than an economy measure. The reuse of old royal statues gave new
structures an instant past and invoked the protective presence of the royal ancestors.
In spite of this tendency to look back on past glories, innovations did appear
among small objects. A wide range of amulets in the form of deities was introduced
during the Third Intermediate Period. These were probably used to
protect the health and safety of the living as well as the bodies of the dead.
Some of the amulets depict mythological episodes such as those in which
Horus harpoons Seth or Isis nurses the baby Horus in the marshes.69 The choice
of such amulets suggests a widespread knowledge of the stories behind these
images. Until the Third Intermediate Period, scenes of nursing goddesses had
always shown a king playing the role of Horus. As Horus the Child ceased to be
so closely identified with the living king, he developed an important role in
mythology and popular religion.
By the eighth century BCE, Egypt was split up into a number of regions
ruled by petty kings and chieftains. The Theban area was under the control of a
line of royal high priestesses known as the Divine Adoratrices of Amun. In temple
rituals these priestesses acted the mythological role of the Hand of Atum,
the partner of the creator.70 Egypt’s divisions were eventually brought to an end
by invaders from the south.
LATE PERIOD AND PTOLEMAIC PERIOD
(DYNASTIES 25–30 AND THE PTOLEMIES):
747–30 BCE
The first millennium BCE saw the rise and fall of a series of great empires. Egypt
suffered invasions and occupations by the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Persians,
and the Greeks; so for most of this period the country was either ruled by a foreign
power or fighting for its independence. Egypt’s culture was under pressure
from new ruling elites, yet many of the best sources for Egyptian myth date to
Introduction 31
this era. Indeed, some scholars do not recognize that Egypt had a developed
mythology before the Late Period. It is a common cultural phenomenon that after
a change of rulers, religion, or language, native people or scholarly incomers
become anxious to record a country’s traditions before they disappear. This often
involves codifying these beliefs and traditions for the first time.
Respect for ancient traditions was a policy of the Nubian kings who ruled
Egypt as the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty. These kings came from an area of Nubia
known as Kush. Their culture combined Nubian and Egyptian elements. The
chief religious site in Kush was the holy mountain of Gebel Barkal near ancient
Napata, where there was a temple for Amun-Ra and Hathor as the Eye of Ra.
King Piye (Piankh) and his brother King Shabaqo (Shabaka) were the first two
kings of this dynasty to rule Egypt. A victory inscription of King Piye
(c. 747–716 BCE) is full of references to Egyptian deities and myths. It records
that he seized the capital Memphis “like a desert storm, just as Amun-Ra had
commanded me.” 71 Some pyramid tombs of Nubian kings near Napata are inscribed
with extracts from Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts. In Thebes, priests appointed
by the Nubian kings revised and codified the Book of the Dead. Some of
the spells they added contain passages that are probably in the Nubian language.
72 Also dating to this Nubian period is the Shabaqo Stone with a copy of
the text known as the Memphite Theology (see Figure Cool.
The Memphite Theology
This text tells how the earth god Geb judged between the rival gods Horus and
Seth and how Osiris was established as ruler of the underworld. It reconciles
the separate creation myths of Atum of Heliopolis and Ptah of Memphis and includes
a first-person account by Ptah of how he created all life through his powers
of thought and speech. This section has often been compared to the famous
opening of St. John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God and the Word was God.” The whole text may have been read aloud
during religious festivals.
King Shabaqo (c. 716–702 BCE) claims to have had the Memphite Theology
copied onto stone because the original was “eaten by worms.” The new version,
which was set up in the temple of Ptah in Memphis, was to prove equally unlucky.
The slab on which it was inscribed was eventually reused as a millstone,
so parts of the text have been ground away. The preface to the Memphite
Theology states that Shabaqo thought this text worthy of preservation because it
was found “to be a work of the ancestors.” In the past, Egyptologists accepted

Shabaqo’s word that this was a
very ancient text and assigned
it to the Old Kingdom or even
the Early Dynastic Period.
Recent work has shown that
the Memphite Theology cannot
be earlier than the late New
Kingdom. It was probably rewritten
under Shabaqo using a
deliberately archaic style to
give the contents added authority.
73
Much of the Memphite
Theology is similar to accounts
of creation in the so-called
Bremner-Rhind Papyrus, which
dates to around the fourth century BCE (see “BRP” in “Appendix: Primary
Sources”).74 Among the texts inscribed on this papyrus are rituals designed to attack
the enemies of the king, the state, and the cosmos and render them harmless.
The Book of Knowing the Transformations of the Sun and of Overthrowing
Apophis gives instructions on making models and drawings of enemies and destroying
them by methods such as stabbing, trampling, burning, and burying.
These sections are prefaced by speeches from the creator god describing the creation
of life and the establishment of the divine order. This identifies the ritual
as part of the continuing cosmic struggle. Until recently, the Bremner-Rhind
Papyrus cosmogony has received much less attention from scholars than the
Memphite Theology, partly because the former conforms to modern ideas of
what a religious text should be like, whereas the latter was seen as belonging to
the primitive world of magic. Of the two, it is probably the Bremner-Rhind
Papyrus that is more characteristic of the way in which mythology was used in
Egyptian culture.
In the seventh century BCE, most Egyptians must have felt that the forces of
chaos had triumphed when their country endured a series of brutal invasions by
the Assyrians. Unlike most invaders, the Assyrians showed little respect for
Egypt’s gods. They looted the temples of Heliopolis and Thebes, taking away
vast quantities of treasure. The Nubian kings were driven out of Egypt, but they
continued to reign over Kush for almost a thousand years.
The Assyrians did not have enough manpower to leave a large army in
Egypt. They appointed Egyptians to govern the country on their behalf and col-
lect tribute. A family from the region of Sais in the Delta collaborated with the
Assyrians for awhile. As soon as the Assyrians were occupied with problems
elsewhere in their empire, this family made Egypt independent again and ruled
as the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. Under these kings, Greek merchants were allowed
to trade and settle in the Delta.
The cult center of the goddess Neith at Sais became one of the most important
temples in Egypt. According to a later tradition, the secret of how the soul
can unite with God was inscribed in hieroglyphs in the sanctuary at Sais.75 At
this time a script known as Demotic was introduced to write texts in the contemporary
form of the Egyptian language. It soon replaced hieratic for most purposes.
Persians and Greeks
In 525 BCE the Persian king, Cambyses, conquered Egypt and executed most of
the Egyptian royal family. It is probably only a legend that Cambyses showed
his contempt for Egyptian gods by stabbing the sacred Apis bull (see “Deities,
Themes, and Concepts”). The Persians did not try to impose their own religion
on Egypt, and they were willing to honor Egyptian deities. The innovative reliefs
in the temple of Hibis in the western desert were mainly carved under
Darius I, one of the Persian kings who made up the Twenty-Seventh Dynasty
(see Figure 33). The reliefs include some very unusual forms of deities. These
forms and the epithets used in the captions, such as Atum “scarab who appeared
at the First Time,” help to define the deities’ mythological roles.76
It was during the first period of Persian rule that the Greek historian
Herodotus of Helicarnassus (c. 484–420 BCE) seems to have visited Egypt. Book
Two of his Historia is a description of the geography, history, customs, and
marvels of Egypt. Some Classicists and Egyptologists think that Herodotus
made up his account from travelers’ tales, but others believe him to be a reliable
eyewitness and take everything that he writes very seriously.77 Herodotus
claims to have talked with Egyptian priests in several important religious centers,
but his information mainly seems to derive from Memphis and the eastern
Delta. He argued that the priests’ knowledge was important to humanity
because, unlike the Greeks, the Egyptians had access to very ancient and continuous
records.
Herodotus thought it possible to identify many Egyptian deities with Greek
ones, so he calls Osiris, Dionysus, and Horus, Apollo. It became a general practice
among Classical writers to use Greek names for Egyptian deities, but these
cross-cultural identifications are not always consistent. Herodotus says more
about religious architecture and rituals than about mythology. “As for the sto-
34 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
ries told by the Egyptians,” he wrote, “let whoever finds them credible use
them.”78 He does not relate the full Osiris myth because he saw it as comparable
to the Greek Mystery cults, which devotees had to vow to keep secret.
Herodotus does outline some brief myths to explain curious features of
buildings or statues, such as why the temple grounds at Buto contained a floating
island or why Amun could be shown with a ram’s head. These are not unlike
the kinds of tales told to gullible tourists by unofficial Egyptian guides at the
monuments today. The bizarre legends Herodotus relates about some Egyptian
kings, such as a tale of King Mycerinus (Menkara) raping his own daughter and
burying her inside a cow, may have reflected contemporary folktales. The
Egyptians had a long tradition of telling unflattering stories about past kings.
Between 404 and 343 BCE, several dynasties of Egyptian-born kings were
able to keep the Persians out of Egypt. The three kings of the Thirtieth Dynasty
instituted a style of art and architecture that was to continue under their foreign
successors. A Thirtieth Dynasty mythological text about the reigns of Shu
and Geb defines a ruler’s duties as defending Egypt from foreign enemies, maintaining
the country’s defensive walls and irrigation systems, and rebuilding the
temples of the gods.79 A huge granite temple was begun at Behbeit el-Hagar for
the goddess Isis, whose cult was becoming increasingly important. Later legend
claimed that it was the failure of King Nectanebo II (360–343 BCE) to complete a
temple for the god Onuris-Shu that led to his defeat when the Persians invaded
again.80 This time the Persians seem to have punished the Egyptians by destroying
some important temples.
The second period of Persian rule was brief because the Persian empire was
soon under attack from the Greeks, led by the young king of Macedonia,
Alexander the Great. Alexander “liberated” Egypt in 332 BCE and was crowned
king in the temple of Ptah at Memphis. During his stay in Egypt, he declared
himself a living god and founded the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean
coast. After Alexander’s death, one of his generals, a Macedonian called
Ptolemy, made himself ruler and then king of Egypt. The Ptolemy family were
to rule Egypt for around 300 years.
Alexandria and Memphis
Under the Ptolemies, the country was governed from Alexandria, and nearly all
the important posts in the government went to Greek settlers rather than to
Egyptians. In the third century BCE, King Ptolemy II (285–246 BCE) founded a
great library. The contents of the famous Library of Alexandria have been lost,
owing to fires, earthquakes, and tidal waves, but its 700,000 book-scrolls proba-
Introduction 35
bly contained little about Egyptian mythology. Greek philosophy, science, and
literature were the main interests of the scholars at the Mouseion, a kind of
protouniversity attached to the library.
Most members of the Ptolemy family never learned the Egyptian language,
but they were conscious that they were ruling a multicultural society and that
they needed the support of influential Egyptians. As a symbol of cultural fusion,
the Ptolemies established the cult of a new god, Serapis, who combined features
of the Egyptian deities Apis and Osiris with aspects of Greek deities such as
Zeus and Dionysus. Many of the Ptolemies were crowned in the temple of Ptah
at Memphis, and they often contributed to the cost of religious ceremonies in
the ancient capital.
Ptolemaic kings and queens were happy to identify themselves with
Egyptian deities and to rule in their names. They encouraged the Egyptians to
worship them as divine rulers. The Memphis decree of King Ptolemy V
(205–180 BCE) ordered the setting up of Egyptian-style statues of “Ptolemy who
has preserved Egypt” in every temple. In the decree, Ptolemy refers to slaughtering
rebels just as Ra and Horus, son of Osiris, had slaughtered those who rebelled
against them “in the First Time.” The Memphis decree is best known
from the copies in Greek and two forms of Egyptian on the Rosetta Stone (see
Figure 10).81
Among the cults supported by the Ptolemies was that of the Apis bull, who
lived in a special enclosure at the temple of Ptah. When an Apis bull died, it
was mummified and given a funeral as elaborate and expensive as that of a king.
A papyrus of the first century BCE summarizes the rituals to be performed, including
mythological dramas. The conflict between Horus and Seth and the victory
of Ra over Apophis were acted out on boats on the lake of the temple of
Ptah. This is typical of the way in which Egyptian rituals lifted events out of ordinary
time and made them part of the whole sequence of mythological history.
Two young women, preferably twin sisters, played the roles of Isis and
Nephthys to mourn the Apis bull as if he had been Osiris himself. Versions of
the types of laments that they sang have survived in the Bremner-Rhind
Papyrus and other sources.82 The laments are notable for their emotional intensity.
Osiris is mourned not just as a king but as a beloved husband and brother.
Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has pointed out that although poetry is notoriously
difficult to translate from one language to another, myths often pass
easily between languages and cultures because their content is far more important
than the way in which they are told.83 Greeks and other immigrants found
the joys and sorrows of Isis to have meaning for their lives. Isis and Osiris came
to be the most famous Egyptian deities among foreigners, but the native
Egyptians continued to worship a multiplicity of deities.
36 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Priests and Temples under the Ptolemies
The Ptolemies undertook massive temple rebuilding programs to legitimize
their rule in the eyes of the Egyptians and their gods.84 Native Egyptian society
was more temple centered than ever, and the priesthood became the custodians
of Egyptian culture. Working for a temple was virtually the only form
of advancement available to talented Egyptians. The priesthood turned into a
hereditary caste, jealous of its rights and privileges. Yet this was not a period
of decadence. Egyptian art, literature, and theology continued to flourish and
develop.
The architecture of the Ptolemaic temples reflects their use by the general
population. Inside the enclosure walls there were sanatoria where people could
visit statues with healing powers or spend the night in the hope that a deity
would come to them in a dream and tell them how their illness could be cured.
Crowds took part in the annual festival of Osiris and left miniature mummy
figures of Osiris in special shrines. Many temples kept large numbers of the
type of animal that was sacred to the main deity of the temple. People could
pay for these animals to be ritually sacrificed and then mummified to act as
messengers to the realm of the gods. Wealthier temple visitors continued the
Late Period practice of dedicating beautifully made bronze images of deities
(see, for example, Figure 13). An area of the temple that may have been a particular
focus for women was the mammisi (Birth House). These structures
were decorated with texts and scenes describing the conception and birth of a
deity, most usually a form of Horus.85
By the Ptolemaic Period, religious texts, such as detailed festival calendars,
cycles of hymns, and the scripts for rituals, were commonly inscribed on temple
walls. This was thought to allow the temple to function even if there was
nobody to perform the rites. Some of the most interesting texts are found in the
extraordinarily well preserved temple of Horus at Edfu, which was built between
237 and 57 BCE. Scenes and inscriptions on the walls have allowed scholars
to reconstruct annual ceremonies such as the Festival of the Beautiful
Union, which celebrated the coming together of Horus and Hathor. The Festival
of Victory commemorated the triumph of Horus over Seth and his followers
(see Figures 31 and 32). This conflict seems to have been acted out on and
around the temple lake.86 A second mythological drama, the Legend of the
Winged Disk, has Horus defending Ra against his enemies, a role usually taken
by the Eye goddess. The foundation of the temple is traced back to the First
Time in a series of texts sometimes known as the Edfu Cosmogony.87
Every major Ptolemaic temple seems to have had its own creation myth,
with the principal deity of the temple playing the role of creator. Texts of this
Introduction 37
type, such as the Khonsu Cosmogony at Karnak,88 use wordplay to incorporate
the myths of other creator deities and show them as aspects of the same phenomenon.
At some temples members of the priesthood used their knowledge of
history and legend to devise stories to support their claims to land and privileges.
The Famine Stela on Sehel island in the First Cataract and the Khonsu
Stela at Thebes are examples of Ptolemaic charter myths in which deities interact
with historical figures (see “Khnum” and “Khonsu” in “Deities, Themes,
and Concepts”).
Among the inscriptions found on the walls of Ptolemaic temples are
lengthy lists of all the sacred places in the forty-two nomes (districts) of Egypt.
The richness of this mythical geography is brought out by Papyrus Jumilhac, an
illustrated selection of the myths and legends of the Jackal nome, the seventeenth
district of Upper Egypt.89 There were probably similar collections for
other regions. Most of the brief narratives are about the conflict between Horus
and Seth, with a particular emphasis on the struggle to protect the body of
Osiris (see Figure 21). Episodes from this cycle become etiological myths to explain
topographical features, or elements of ritual, such as why Egyptian priests
wear leopard skins. These are national gods localized, rather than local gods
universalized.
Papyrus Jumilhac was not just an antiquarian collection, as its texts seem
to have been recited during religious festivals. The first Egyptian to write about
Egyptian religion purely as a scholarly exercise may have been a priest called
Manetho who lived in the late fourth and early third centuries BCE. Manetho
was one of the educated elite who could understand the hieroglyphic script and
earlier forms of the Egyptian language, but he also learned Greek. His ambition
was to explain and justify Egyptian culture to outsiders, particularly the Greeks.
He is famous for writing a history of Egypt that only survives in excerpts in
later Classical writers.90 Manetho was credited with at least seven other works,
including books on Egyptian festivals, rituals, and “ancient religion.” Sadly, no
manuscripts of these books have yet been found.
In general, less literature has survived from the first millennium BCE than
from the Middle and New Kingdoms. One virtually complete Late Period story
written in hieratic is antiestablishment in tone and features a cowardly and
lustful king and greedy and heartless priests. The hero, Meryra, enters the underworld
in his king’s place and is helped by a goddess to avenge himself on
those who have betrayed him.91 There are fragments of mythological tales in
Demotic, including at least one about the crowning of Horus and Seth.92 Some
interesting mythological narratives survive from the Late and Ptolemaic
Periods inscribed in hieroglyphs on special types of statues and stelae used in
healing magic.
38 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Isis and Horus
Magical statues and stelae usually feature a carved figure of Horus in child form
overcoming dangerous animals (see, for example, Figure 16). Such stelae are
known as cippi or “Horus on the crocodiles stelae.” The most famous object of
this type is the Metternich Stela, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York.93 This is inscribed with a collection of spells for driving away dangerous
animals and reptiles or curing their poisonous bites and stings. These
creatures were both hazards of daily life and symbols of the chaos that constantly
threatened the divine order. Surrounding the central figure of Horus on
most cippi is a grotesque array of deities in their most terrifying and powerful
forms. These images complement the text of the spells but do not illustrate
them.94 The power of the words and images could be absorbed by drinking or
bathing in water poured over the stela.
Most of the spells center on a briefly stated mythical event, such as Ra-
Atum transforming himself into a mongoose to kill Apophis. A few are fleshed
out into narratives with lively dialogue. In the longest of these dramatized
spells, Isis is imprisoned by Seth but escapes to the marshes of Chemmis, where
she gives birth to Horus. Isis is depicted as oppressed by powerful males, struggling
with poverty, and in constant fear of losing her child. This was probably
the lot of most ordinary women in Ancient Egypt. The cippi texts raise the
question that must be answered by every religion: If god is good, why do innocent
children suffer? An angry attitude toward divine indifference is put in the
mouth of Isis. Her challenge to the sun god to help her dying child is one of the
most powerful emotional passages in all of Egyptian literature. Ra responds by
sending Thoth to cure Horus. Isis as everywoman has triumphed, and the spell
promises that every child will be saved because Horus was saved.
Cippi have been found in houses and tombs, but large examples such as the
Metternich Stela would originally have been set up in an outer area of a temple.
Ptolemaic Period temples are decorated with endless scenes of gods and
pharaohs, but the absence of specific royal names from some cartouches gives a
clue that it was often difficult for the priests to know who was in charge of the
country or for how long. From the second century BCE onward there were frequent
wars between rival members of the Ptolemy family as well as rebellions
by native Egyptians. In the first century BCE, one of the feuding Ptolemies unwisely
sought help from Rome, the city that was becoming the greatest military
power in the ancient world. The Romans were eager for an excuse to get hold of
the gold and the grain that Egypt produced.
The Greek writer Diodorus Siculus (of Sicily) visited northern Egypt in the
mid first century BCE. In his description of the country he picked out elements
Introduction 39
of Egyptian religion that he found bizarre, such as the reverential treatment of
sacred animals. Diodorus summarized the myth of Osiris, including his murder
by his brother, Typhon (Seth). He explained the symbolic tombs of Osiris found
in temples all over Egypt by a myth in which Isis deceives the priests in each
temple into thinking that they have the true body of the god. This literalminded
interpretation points up the differences between Greek and Egyptian
thought.
Soon after Diodorus’s visit, Rome was interfering in Egyptian affairs. The
Roman general Julius Caesar took part in a civil war and secured the position of
the last great member of the Ptolemy family, Queen Cleopatra VII (51–30 BCE).
After Julius Caesar returned to Rome, Cleopatra gave birth to a son, Ptolemy
Caesarion. Cleopatra used Egyptian myth to political advantage by identifying
herself with the goddess Isis and her fatherless son with Horus the child. A few
years later Cleopatra joined forces with another Roman general, Mark Antony,
to try to establish a new empire of the east. Mark Antony’s patron deity was
Dionysus, the Greek god generally identified with Osiris. In 30 BCE Antony and
Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian, who subsequently became the first emperor
of Rome under the title of Augustus. Egypt was reduced to being a
province of the Roman empire.
ROMAN PERIOD: 30 BCE–395 CE
For a time, Roman rule had relatively little impact on the religious life of the
country. Roman emperors replaced Ptolemaic kings on the temple walls.
Strabo, a geographer who visited Egypt in the early Roman Period, stressed the
country’s past glories but was able to describe flourishing cult temples.95 Under
Augustus, and later under Trajan (98–117 CE) and Hadrian (117–138 CE), new
temples were built for Egyptian and Nubian deities. The language of temple inscriptions
was still neo–Middle Egyptian, written in a form of the hieroglyphic
script that was increasingly difficult to read.96
The long tradition of speculation about the First Time continued. The temple
of Khnum at Esna, which largely dates to the first century CE, is inscribed
with hymns detailing the roles of Khnum and the goddess Neith as creator
deities. Chaeremon, an Alexandrian who became one of Emperor Nero’s tutors,
described the Egyptian priests of his day as pious philosophers who were the
custodians of an esoteric knowledge sought by people of many races.97 One of
the seekers who made good use of such knowledge was the Greek writer and
thinker Plutarch (c. 46–126 CE).
40 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Plutarch’s Osiris
Plutarch is best remembered as
a historian whose biographies
of leaders such as Coriolanus
and Mark Antony formed the
main source for several of
Shakespeare’s plays. Plutarch
was fascinated by Egyptian religion
and wrote a book on this
topic called “Concerning Isis
and Osiris.” He could not
speak or read any form of the
Egyptian language, so he had to
rely on conversations through
interpreters and speculations
about Egyptian deities found in
the works of earlier Classical
writers. Plutarch’s narrative of
the life and death of Osiris and
the wanderings of his widow,
Isis, is the one commonly used
in popular books on Egyptian
mythology.
Plutarch had few reservations
about describing in detail
the murder of Osiris and the
mutilation of the god’s body.
Much of Plutarch’s Osiris narrative
must have been based on stories and customs that were current in Egypt
during the first century CE, but this does not make it a reliable source for earlier
periods. The myth of Osiris had been developing and changing for over 2,500
years before Plutarch was born, but Plutarch’s written sources could only take
him back about 600 years. Plutarch himself gave alternate versions of parts of
the story, some of which he thought might be more authentic than others.
His stated purpose in writing the book was to seek the universal truths that
he believed to lie behind the myths and beliefs of all cultures. He quotes other
writers’ far-fetched allegorical interpretations of Egyptian myth. His own comments
on the nature of myth often sound surprisingly modern. He did not be-
lieve that myths described events that had actually happened. He is scathing
about people who interpreted all myths in terms of natural phenomena such as
crop cycles or eclipses: “One should take the greatest heed and care not unconsciously
to reduce and resolve the divine to terms of winds, fluxes, sowings,
ploughings, terrestrial occurrences and seasonal changes, like those who explain
Dionysus as wine and Hephaestus as flame.”98
Plutarch saw the mythology of Isis in particular as a profound expression of
the benevolent face of the divine. It is to his credit as a scholar that he related
some incidents, such as one in which Isis strikes a child dead with her glance,
that do not easily fit with this view. Roman Period hymns in Greek and
Egyptian speak of all gods and goddesses as merely forms of the great creator
Isis. One of the things that made the cults of Osiris and Isis popular with foreigners
was the promise of a happy afterlife for all the virtuous dead, whatever
their status had been in life. This was not a concept that was very common
among ancient religions.
Vignettes of the judgment of the dead feature prominently in the Book of
Breathing, a condensed version of the Book of the Dead placed in burials during
the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. A new text known as the Book of Traversing
Eternity was sometimes combined with the Book of Breathing. This contained
spells to allow the spirit of a dead person to return to earth to visit temples and
take part in the festivals of Osiris99 The scholar-priests who compiled these
books were presumably drawing on ancient texts preserved in temple libraries,
100 but there is evidence that such priests were also open to influences
from outside Egyptian culture.
Demotic Literature
Under the Roman administration, Greek remained the chief language of intellectual
and literary life. Huge numbers of Roman Period papyri have survived,
particularly from the Fayum region and the town of Oxyrhynchus. Among
these are literary papyri in Greek and Demotic from temple libraries or priests’
houses. Much of this literature may originally have been composed in the
Ptolemaic Period. Some of the Demotic literature shows foreign influence. A
fragmentary tale of a war between an Egyptian prince and an Amazon queen has
been compared with Greek myths such as the combat of Achilles and
Penthesilia or the conquest of the Amazon queen Hippolyta by Theseus. The
Demotic version is told from the point of view of the “queen of the land of
women.” She appeals to Isis to help her against the Egyptian prince, who is
compared with the chaos monster Apophis.101
42 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
The war between order and chaos is the underlying theme of the myth of
the Eye of the Sun, also known as the myth of the Distant Goddess (see “The
Distant Goddess” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). The outline
of this myth can be pieced together from rituals inscribed on the walls of
Ptolemaic and early Roman Period temples. A literary version in Demotic is the
longest mythical narrative in Egyptian to survive from any period.102 The Eye of
the Sun text seems to have been put together from many different sources and
was probably read aloud to entertain people. It includes passages of virtuoso
descriptive writing, elaborate praises of Egyptian culture that would have gone
down well with a native audience, and animal fables. These short moral tales
are told by the god Thoth as part of his plan to lure the angry goddess back to
Egypt to resume her place in the divine order as the sun god’s chief defender.
Thoth’s story of a lion helped by a mouse has the same plot as a shorter fable attributed
to Aesop, a Greek slave thought to have lived in the sixth century
BCE.103 Incidents from other fables in the Eye of the Sun have been recognized in
drawings dating to the late second millennium BCE, so Egypt seems to have had
a tradition of animal fables centuries before Aesop.
Another genre with a long history in Egypt was stories about magicians.
These were usually set in the past, like the Middle Kingdom sequence of stories
about Old Kingdom magicians in Papyrus Westcar. One badly preserved
Demotic story cycle tells how the Third Dynasty official Imhotep used magic to
help the armies of Egypt.104 Very similar stories are told about Nectanebo II in
the Greek “Alexander Romance” of the second century CE, which is probably
based on a lost Egyptian original. Another story cycle was centered on a prince
called Setna, a character based on an actual son of Rameses II, Prince
Khaemwaset. Part of one of these stories is known from the fourth century BCE,
but the most complete versions come from the early Roman Period (see
“Appendix: Primary Sources”). The proper uses of magic and other types of secret
knowledge form one of the main themes of these stories.
Land of Magicians
By the Roman Period, Egypt was renowned as a land of priest-magicians. The
ancient city of Memphis was thought to be the place where they learned their
secret craft. In the first of the stories about Setna, the prince steals the magical
Book of Thoth from an ancient tomb near Memphis. He ignores the warnings of
the ghosts who inhabit the tomb and is punished by horrible hallucinations until
he gives back the forbidden book. Several manuscripts ranging in date from
the first century BCE to the second century CE preserve parts of an actual Book
Introduction 43
of Thoth.105 This begins with a dialogue between a person seeking divine wisdom
and Thoth, the god of wisdom and secret knowledge. The seeker hopes to
gain some of the very powers mentioned in Setna’s magic book, such as understanding
the speech of birds and animals and seeing Ra in his sun boat. The
Setna story seems to be a warning against trying to use such knowledge to gain
earthly power rather than spiritual enlightenment.
In the second story in the cycle, Setna is allowed to pay a brief visit to the
underworld to see Osiris judging the dead. Such a spirit voyage also forms part
of the Book of Thoth, where it acts as a kind of initiation rite.106 In the Demotic
story, the scenario of the traditional underworld books is fictionalized into a
personal journey. Some of the horrors Setna sees, such as souls tormented by
tasks they can never complete, seem to be based on Greek visions of the afterlife.
In the third story, Setna’s son Sa-Osiris (“son of Osiris”) turns out to be a
reincarnation of a great magician of the past, a concept that may be more Greek
than Egyptian. A battle against malevolent Nubian sorcerers reflects contemporary
fears of the powerful Nubian kingdom to the south, which the Romans
never succeeded in conquering.
A number of magical papyri of the Roman Period have survived, mainly
from Thebes. Most of their spells are in Greek, but four papyri of the third century
CE contain elaborate spells in Demotic.107 The Demotic spells often utilize
Egyptian deities in their traditional mythical roles for dubious purposes. So, for
example, the myth of the rape of the goddess Tefnut is invoked in a spell to separate
a woman from her husband. The spells in Greek are populated by figures
borrowed from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman myth and Aramaic and Jewish religion.
Egypt was a cosmopolitan country, and the Roman Period was an age of
religious synthesis. This is also apparent in the Greek texts known as the
Hermetica.108
Like the Book of Thoth, Hermetic texts were usually in the form of a dialogue
between a disciple and a deity or a revered sage. The deity is most commonly
Hermes, the Greek god identified with Thoth. Some Hermetica feature
Isis or Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine identified with the deified Egyptian
sage, Imhotep. The instructing deity sometimes relates myths about the beginning
or the end of the world. Many spells in the magical papyri claim the power
to summon visions of deities. In the Hermetica, such visions can lead to a truer
understanding of the meaning of life and the nature of the divine.
The Hermetica were principally a development of Greek philosophy. It
used to be argued that the Hermetica were written and read only by Greeks until
some Hermetic texts in Coptic were found. Coptic was a form of the
Egyptian language used from the second century CE onward. It was written in
the Greek alphabet with the addition of six signs borrowed from the Demotic
44 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
script. Most scholars now agree that the traditional wisdom of the Egyptian
priests and their knowledge of Egyptian myth were among the elements that
made up the Hermetica.
Some of the Hermetica have much in common with the teachings of
Gnosticism, which promised salvation through gnosis (knowledge) of the self.
Gnostics rejected the material world as evil, a point of view that was alien to
traditional Egyptian thought, which had always celebrated the created world
as part of the divine order. Manicheism, a religious movement that originated
in Iran, was more sympathetic. Its emphasis on a perpetual struggle between
the forces of darkness and light could be seen by Egyptians as a version
of their unending war between chaos and order. The real challenge to traditional
Egyptian beliefs, however, was to come from another new religion:
Christianity.
At first Christianity was just one of many religions thriving in Egypt.
During the second and third centuries CE, Christians were brutally persecuted
for refusing to acknowledge that the Roman emperors were gods. Some early
Christian writers, such as the second-century CE Bishop Clement of Alexandria,
are useful though hostile witnesses on Egyptian religion. During the fourth century
CE, Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. The
date usually given for the end of Pharaonic culture is 395 CE. This was the year
when the Roman Empire was divided into two. Egypt became part of the eastern,
or Byzantine, Empire, and most of its pagan temples were closed down by
order of the emperor.
The Isis temple at Philae on Egypt’s southern border stayed open until the
sixth century CE because it was protected by Nubian tribes who still revered the
goddess. The latest known hieroglyphic texts are from Philae. When there was
no longer anyone left who could read the ancient texts, knowledge of the
Egyptian gods and their myths gradually died out. This change of religion was
far more significant for Egyptian culture than all the previous changes of government.
POST-PHARAONIC EGYPT
The three centuries in which Egypt was predominantly a Christian country are
often referred to as the Coptic Period. It was in the deserts of Egypt that
Christian monasticism first developed, and the great monasteries partially took
the place of temples in Egyptian society. Christian chroniclers provide evidence
that some Egyptians clung to the old beliefs as late as the sixth century CE. A
few magical texts of this period still mention the myths of Isis and the Horus
Introduction 45
child, but most replace them
with anecdotes about the Virgin
Mary and Baby Jesus. The last
stories about the gods of Egypt
are those that tell of their defeat
by Coptic saints.109
In the seventh century CE,
Egypt was invaded first by the
Persians and then by the Arabs.
The Arabs brought with them
the Muslim religion, but many
of the native Egyptians (the
Copts) remained Christian. The
Coptic language fell out of general
use around 1000 CE, but it
has continued to be used in the
liturgies of the Coptic church
right up to the present day. For
centuries Egypt was part of an
Arab empire ruled by caliphs in
Damascus or Baghdad. The
most famous of these caliphs
was Haroun al-Rashid, who features
in the Arabian Nights
Entertainment, a vast collection
of stories compiled in medieval Egypt. Egypt’s greatest medieval leader was
Saladin (1169–1193 CE), who defended Egypt and Palestine against the Christian
crusaders. Arabic literature flourished in Egypt, and one of its themes was the
lost treasures and secrets of the ancient pagan sites.110
Medieval Christian pilgrims who visited Egypt because it was a Bible land
brought back descriptions of the pyramids, which they generally identified with
the granaries of Joseph. A crucial part of the Renaissance, which began in fourteenth-
century CE Italy, was the rediscovery of Classical texts. During the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries CE, Hermetica from Egypt were wrongly thought
to be the world’s most ancient religious documents. This aroused great interest
in Egyptian religion and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity. The myths
of Osiris, Isis, and Horus became the subject of sermons and essays. From the
sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries CE, there were many attempts to decipher
Egyptian hieroglyphs.111
Up to the end of the eighteenth century CE, most of Egypt was a difficult
and dangerous place for Western travelers to visit. When the French leader
Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, he took many scholars and artists
with him. The survivors wrote and illustrated a multivolume Description of
Egypt, which contributed to a Europe-wide fascination for all things Egyptian.
Among the antiquities found during Napoleon’s campaign was the Rosetta
Stone. This was one of the documents used by the brilliant French linguist Jean-
Francois Champollion to decipher the hieroglyphic script. The rage for collecting
Egyptian antiquities meant that papyri and inscribed objects ended up in
museums and private collections all over the world. A fashion for holding
mummy-unwrapping parties inspired Gothic novels, such as Jane Webb’s The
Mummy (1827), which were forerunners of the modern horror genre.
Most major Egyptian religious and literary texts were translated into
Western languages during the second half of the nineteenth century CE. Some of
these sources, particularly E. A. Wallis Budge’s translation of the Book of the
Dead, were drawn on by occult writers such as the Theosophist Madam
Blavatsky and the self-styled Great Beast, Aleister Crowley. Sigmund Freud, the
founder of psychoanalysis, was attracted by the symbolic qualities of Ancient
Egyptian art, and his colleague Carl Jung was fascinated by Egyptian solar
mythology.112 Sir James Frazer, the “Father of Anthropology,” devoted several
chapters of his influential book The Golden Bough to the myths of Osiris and
Isis, which he interpreted as primarily relating to the annual growth and decay
of vegetation.113 Other twentieth-century CE anthropologists and historians of
religion used Ancient Egyptian religion to argue that myths were always linked
with rituals or even that all myths evolved to explain existing rituals. Extreme
advocates of the latter school derived all the world’s myths from prehistoric
Egyptian kingship rituals.114 Equally controversial in recent times has been
Martin Bernal’s work on the Egyptian contribution to Greek mythology and
culture.115 One offshoot of the feminist movement has been a new interest in
goddesses, and Isis is now worshipped again in many parts of the world.
Egyptian mythology has never been a key part of Western literature in the
way that Greek mythology has. Egyptian funerary religion and archaeology
have provided more inspiration to writers than Egyptian myths. The reanimated
mummy is the image that has captured the modern imagination, but the deities
of Ancient Egypt have appeared as peripheral characters in horror stories by
writers such as Théophile Gautier, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, H.
Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, H. P. Lovecraft, and Sax Rohmer (see “Egyptian
Myth: Annotated Print and Nonprint Resources”).116
The sensational discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 encouraged
the cinema’s fascination with “the curse of the mummy.”117 The plot of the re-
Introduction 47
cent Hollywood blockbuster The Mummy, in which a mercenary searches for a
magical golden book in a haunted city, is very close to that of the Setna story.
Like Setna, the hero has to learn that seeking the secret knowledge of the
Ancient Egyptians can be a risky business. You have been warned.
NOTES
1. For summaries of these and many other interpretations, see G. S. Kirk, Myth: Its
Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (Cambridge and Berkeley, 1970); or
W. G. Doty, Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals, 2d ed. (Tuscaloosa, AL, and
London, 2000).
2. Kirk, Myth, 252–261.
3. For examples, see Clyde Kluckhohn, “Myths and Rituals: A General Theory,” Harvard
Theological Review 35 (1942): 45–79.
4. Kirk, Myth, 254–255.
5. It is a feature of etiological myths that, factually speaking, the explanation given is
nearly always wrong.
6. In Ancient Egyptian color symbolism, black was a “good” color standing for fertility and
rebirth, whereas red was a “bad” color standing for danger and sometimes for evil.
7. Because of the Nile flood, all permanent settlements had to be built on banks or mounds
of high ground within the floodplain or in the desert hills that flank the Nile valley. The
annual flood is now controlled by the huge Aswan Dam.
8. Kirk, Myth, 208–209.
9. For an accessible account of recent discoveries about the origins of Egyptian writing, see
Vivian Davies and Renée Friedman, Egypt (London, 1998), chap. 1.
10. The main historical interpretations of the myth are summarized by J. G. Griffiths in
The Conflict of Horus and Seth from Egyptian and Classical Sources (Liverpool, 1960). H.
te Velde has pointed out that even if there is any truth to these theories, the function of the
story of Horus and Seth in Egyptian culture was as a religious myth. See te Velde, Seth,
God of Confusion (Leiden, 1977), 74–80.
11. For a very detailed study of these rules about the content and style of art, see Heinrich
Schäfer, Principles of Egyptian Art, rev. ed., trans. and ed. John Baines (Oxford, 1986).
Those with less time to spare should consult the first two chapters in Gay Robins, The Art
of Ancient Egypt (London, 1997).
12. A variety of views on divine kingship can be found in D. O’Connor and D. Silverman
(eds.), Ancient Egyptian Kingship (Leiden, 1995). See also L. Bell, Mythology and
Iconography of Divine Kingship in Ancient Egypt (Chicago, 1994).
13. This copy may date to the twenty-third century BCE. See D. B. Redford, Pharaonic Kinglists,
Annals, and Day-books: A Contribution to the Study of the Egyptian Sense of
History (Mississauga, Ontario, 1986).
48 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
14. For a comprehensive list of all the deities recorded in the Early Dynastic Period, see
Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt (London and New York, 1999), chap. 8.
15. In most periods the hippopotamus was a sacred animal of Seth. Several Early Dynastic
labels show a king harpooning or even wrestling with a hippopotamus. Such representations
may have been the origin of a late tradition that King Menes was killed during a hippopotamus
hunt.
16. During all of the third and much of the second millennium BCE, Egyptian temples were
mainly staffed on a rota basis. People were organized into “phyles” or crews that performed
ritual duties in temples for one month in every ten. Temple archives, which show
how this rota system worked in practice, have survived from the Old Kingdom. See Mark
Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (London, 1997), 233–235.
17. Early examples of such topographical lists are discussed and interpreted by John Baines
in “An Abydos List of Gods and an Old Kingdom Use of Texts,” in Pyramid Studies and
Other Essays Presented to I. E .S. Edwards, ed. John Baines (London, 1988), 124–133.
18. For a summary of recent theories about pyramid complexes, see Dieter Arnold, “Royal
Cult Complexes of the Old and Middle Kingdoms,” in Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. Byron
E. Shafer (Ithaca, 1997), 31–85.
19. For a full bibliography of translations and interpretations of the Pyramid Texts and all
the other funerary texts mentioned in this chapter, see Erik Hornung, The Ancient
Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, trans. David Lorton (Ithaca and London, 1999).
20. Recent research has suggested that the stars and planets were thought of as forming
part of the great cycle of the sun’s progression through the sky, so it was not contradictory
to claim that the deceased king was joining both the sun and the stars.
21. These statements are from Pyramid Text 477. This is typical of the way in which the
death of Osiris was alluded to (he has “fallen upon his side”) but never clearly described.
The belief that this terrible event should not be directly shown or narrated persisted right
until the end of Egyptian culture.
22. This provincial use may only be evidence for the gradual spread of literacy and an increasing
availability of artists outside the capital. Some parts of the Pyramid Texts were
probably recited at private funerals long before they were first written down on private
tomb walls and coffins.
23. Extracts from the Pyramid Texts occur on tomb walls and coffins right down to the
Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BC). It is a remarkable testament to the longevity of Egyptian culture
that educated people living in this period could read and appreciate texts composed
over 2,000 years earlier.
24. See Kurt Sethe, Dramatische Texte zu altägyptischen Mysterienspielen (Leipzig, 1928).
Egyptologists have been unable to agree on the nature of the rituals recorded in this text.
They have been interpreted as a coronation ceremony, or as part of the sed festival at
which a king’s power was renewed by the gods, or a royal funeral.
25. For a persuasive interpretation of the religious symbolism of Middle Kingdom tomb
decoration, see Janice Kamrin, The Cosmos of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hasan (London and
New York, 1999).
Introduction 49
26. For a translation and study of the Book of Two Ways, see Leonard H. Lesko, The
Ancient Egyptian Book of Two Ways (Berkeley, 1972).
27. Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, 11.
28. See Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. W. R. Trask
(New York, 1964).
29. Both views about the Coffin Texts are represented among the essays in H. Willems
(ed.), The World of the Coffin Texts (Leiden, 1996).
30. The services in Egyptian temples did not include a congregation. Only priests were allowed
to enter the sanctuary and touch the image of the deity. Hymns were sung by temple
musicians as part of the process of “waking” a deity each morning. For temple music,
see Lisa Manniche, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt (London, 1991), chap. 4. For a
selection of Middle Kingdom hymns, see Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature,
vol. 1, The Old and Middle Kingdoms (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1973), pt. 3,
sec. 4.
31. See Richard B. Parkinson, “Individual and Society in Middle Kingdom Literature” and
“Types of Literature in the Middle Kingdom,” in Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and
Forms, ed. Antonio Loprieno (Leiden and New York, 1996), 137–156, 297–312.
32. The text is translated by Richard B. Parkinson in The Tale of Sinuhe and Other
Ancient Egyptian Poems 1940–1640 BC (Oxford, 1997),166–199.
33. In his Folktales of Egypt (Chicago, 1980), Hasan M. El-Shamy argues that “book stories”
and oral folk stories develop in parallel, but he cites a number of “crossovers.”
34. For translations of these tales, see “Appendix: Primary Sources” under P. Westcar.
35. The story is translated and discussed by Hans Goedicke in “The Story of the
Herdsman,” Chronique d’Égypte 45 (1970): 244–266; and by Parkinson in The Tale of
Sinuhe, 287–288.
36. For a translation of the story see Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature 1:211–215.
See also John Baines, “Interpreting the Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor,” in Journal of
Egyptian Archaeology 76 (1990): 55–72.
37. This is particularly true of Jan Assmann in “Die Verborgenheit des Mythos in
Ägypten,” Göttinger Miszellen 25 (1977): 7–43. See also J. Zeidler, “Zur Frage der
Spätentstehung des Mythos in Ägypten,” Göttinger Miszellan 132 (1993): 85–109.
38. J. F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (Leiden, 1978), xi.
39. Reconstructing the myth of Osiris from the reticent accounts on these stelae is like
trying to reconstruct the Gospels from brief descriptions of Easter services, but see “Les
Fetes D’Osiris À Abydos Au Moyen Empire Et Au Nouvel Empire” by Marie-Christine
Lavier and “La Stéla D’Ikhernofret (Berlin No. 1204)” by Jacques Guiter in Egypte: Afrique
et Orient, no.10 (August 1998): 27–38.
40. Names linked to the opponents of Ra were sometimes given to criminals and foreign
enemies as part of a procedure to obliterate their identities in life and the afterlife. It is possible
that this Hyksos ruler continued to use a name that was given to him as an insult
when he first came to Egypt.
50 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
41. For a translation of this story, see W. K. Simpson (ed.), The Literature of Ancient Egypt:
An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, and Poetry (New Haven and London, 1973), 77–80.
42. This inscription is sometimes called the “King as Sun Priest text.” It may derive from
the scripts for Middle Kingdom rituals. The text is discussed and translated in J. Assmann’s
Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun, and the Crisis of Polytheism,
trans. Anthony Alcock (London and New York, 1995), 18–21.
43. Some offerings suggest that temple visitors were familiar with deities’ mythological
roles, but whether this knowledge came through stories or images is unclear. See G. Pinch,
Votive Offerings to Hathor (Oxford, 1993).
44. For the influence of solar and lunar mythology on the art and architecture of
Amenhotep III’s reign, see “Designing the Cosmos” in A. P. Kozloff and B. M. Bryan,
Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World (Cleveland, 1992), 73–124.
45. For modern myth making about Akhenaten and Nefertiti, see D. Montserrat,
Akhenaten History, Fantasy, and Ancient Egypt (London and New York, 2000).
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46. At a large temple such as the one at Karnak, there were four “shifts,” so no one had to
spend more than a quarter of their time on ritual duties. For all aspects of the priesthood,
see David Lorton’s new translation of S. Sauneron’s The Priests of Ancient Egypt (Ithaca
and London), 2000.
47. More specifically, the temples were models of the cosmos as it was newly created “in
the First Time.” For a summary of the symbolic aspects of temples, see “The Temple as
Cosmos,” in E. Hornung, Idea into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian Thought
(Princeton, 1992), 115–130; or “Worlds within Worlds,” in R. H. Wilkinson, The Complete
Temples of Ancient Egypt (London, 2000), 52–79.
48. Greek visitors such as Diodorus Siculus later interpreted such scenes as representing a
mythical battle between gods and giants set in the far past, but the Egyptians used contemporary
enemies as characters in their defining myth of the war between order and chaos.
49. Hatshepsut’s scenes are at Deir el-Bahari and Amenhotep III’s at Luxor temple. The
scenes involving Rameses II are only known from a few stray blocks.
50. Seth was the local deity of the part of the eastern Delta from which Seti and his family
came. At Abydos, a picture of Osiris sometimes replaces the picture of Seth, which should
be used to write the king’s name.
51. For example, every cult image was treated as if it were the mummified body of Osiris,
which could be restored to life by offerings symbolizing the powerful Eye of Horus. See A.
R. David, A Guide to Religious Ritual at Abydos (Warminster, England, 1981).
52. The Osireion was probably begun under Seti I and finished by his grandson Merenptah.
53. The hymn is found on the stela of the official Amenmose (Louvre Museum C 286). See
in “Appendix: Primary Sources.”
54. The majority of the Underworld Books first appear in the late Eighteenth and early
Nineteenth Dynasties, perhaps as a counterreaction to Akhenaten’s efforts to abolish the
realm of Osiris. For summaries of all the Underworld Books, see Hornung, The Ancient
Egyptian Books of the Afterlife.
Introduction 51
55. The Egyptians seem to have been the first people to divide the day into twenty-four
hours: twelve for the day and twelve for the night.
56. The tomb of Rameses VI (c. 1143–1136 BCE) includes all or part of seven Underworld
Books. This alone suggests that they were not to be taken as factual descriptions of the afterlife.
Underworld Books were true in the sense that they were thought to be effective in
bringing about a desired state.
57. In a forthcoming book, Crowns in Egyptian Funerary Literature—Symbols of Royalty,
Rebirth, and Destruction, Katja Goebs suggests that the myth of the destruction of
mankind evolved from a myth of the sun god’s reabsorption of the powers of all the other
celestial beings, just as the sun appears to swallow up the stars at dawn.
58. For translations of a selection of these hymns, see “Hymns and Prayers to Amun-Re:
The Apogee of Ancient Egyptian Religious Thought,”’ in J. L. Foster, Hymns, Prayers and
Songs: An Anthology of Ancient Egyptian Lyric Poetry, ed. Susan Tower Hollis (Atlanta,
1995), 55–79. The problem of the nature of the relationship between the one creator deity
and the myriad other gods and goddesses continued to fascinate Egyptian thinkers long after
Akhenaten’s solution had been rejected. See Assmann, Egyptian Solar Religion In the
New Kingdom.
59. J. Assmann, “Death and Initiation in the Funerary Religion of Ancient Egypt,” in J. P.
Allen et al., Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt, Yale Egyptological Studies 3 (New
Haven, 1989), 150–152. For the possible influence of Egyptian concepts of divine judgment
on other religions, see S. G. F. Brandon, The Judgement of the Dead: An Historical and
Comparative Study of the Idea of Post-mortem Judgement in the Major Religions
(London, 1967).
60. For example, a man named Neferabu describes how the goddess Meretseger struck him
down like a savage lioness because he had sinned against her. This seems to be a reference
to the myth told in the Book of the Heavenly Cow of humanity’s being punished for its
sins by the unleashing of a terrible lioness. For a translation of Neferabu’s stela, see
“Appendix: Primary Sources.”
61. Owing to the occupation of the villagers, there was an unusually high literacy rate in
Deir el-Medina. Even so, most of the artists probably could not read the texts of the
Underworld Books they copied onto the walls of the royal tombs. For the religious life of
the villagers, see L. H. Lesko (ed.), Pharaoh’s Workers (Ithaca and London, 1994).
62. See John Baines, “Myth and Literature,” in Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian Literature,
373–374.
63. The mythological basis for the story is explored by S. Tower Hollis in The Ancient
Egyptian “Tale of Two Brothers”: The Oldest Fairy Tale in the World (Norman, OK, and
London, 1990).
64. For a discussion of all these New Kingdom stories and fragments, see S. Quirke,
“Narrative literature,” in Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 263–276. Most of the stories
are translated in Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt.
65. For varying interpretations of this story, see C. Oden, “A Structural Interpretation of
the Contendings of Horus and Seth,” History of Religions 18, no. 2 (1979): 352–369; and S.
A. Allam, “Legal Aspects in the ‘Contendings of Horus and Seth,’” in Studies in Pharaonic
52 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Religion and Society in Honour of J. Gwyn Griffiths, ed. A. B. Lloyd (London, 1992),
137–145.
66. The Ancient Egyptian year was divided into three seasons, each lasting four months.
The months were mainly named after deities. For a translation of the Cairo Calendar, see
“Appendix: Primary Sources.”
67. The ostensible reason for moving the royal mummies was to save them from tomb robbers,
but it also allowed the high priests to recycle the treasure buried with these rulers.
The mummies were gathered together and hidden in two separate tombs, where they were
rediscovered in the nineteenth century CE.
68. The burial equipment from these tombs, which includes splendid jewelry with mythological
motifs, is displayed in the Cairo Museum. Hardly any royal tombs from the rest of
the first millennium BCE have survived in Egypt, but it is known that Underworld Books
continued to be used on royal sarcophagi.
69. For examples of such amulets, see C. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt (London,
1994), pls.80, 101.
70. For the myth of Atum’s creating life with his hand, see “Creation” under “Linear
Time” in “Mythical Time Lines.” The word for hand was feminine in Egyptian. For further
information on these powerful royal women, see G. Robins, Women in Ancient Egypt
(London and Cambridge, MA, 1993), chap. 8.
71. For a translation of this inscription, see Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian
Literature, vol. 3 The Late Period (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1980), 66–84; and for
the full story of these remarkable kings, see R. G. Morkot, The Black Pharaohs: Egypt’s
Nubian Rulers (London, 2000). Note that in some chronologies all or part of the Twenty-
Fifth Dynasty is counted as part of the Third Intermediate Period.
72. See L. H. Lesko, “Nubian Influence on the Later Versions of the Books of the Dead” in
Abstracts of Papers: Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists (Cairo, 2000), 111.
73. For translations of the Memphite Theology, see MT in “Appendix: Primary Sources;”
for the discussion of its date, see F. Junge, MDAIK 29 (1973): 195–204; and H. Schlögl, Der
Gott Ta-tenen, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 29 (Freiburg and Göttingen, 1980).
74. This papyrus is now in the British Museum, London (PBM 10188). For a full translation,
see “Appendix: Primary Sources.” For a commentary on the creation myths, see J. P.
Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, 2d ed.,
Yale Egyptological Studies 2 (San Antonio, TX, 1995), 27–30.
75. This inscription is mentioned by the neo-Platonist philosopher Iamblichus in his book
Mysteries of Egypt, written around 300 CE. The major temples and royal tombs of Sais now
lie beneath a marshy area that has not been fully excavated.
76. See “Appendix: Primary Sources” under Hibis texts. The temple of Hibis has now been
dismantled and is going to be rebuilt on a drier site.
77. The truth about Herodotus probably lies somewhere between these opposing viewpoints.
For a very detailed study of this topic, see A. B. Lloyd, Herodotus Book II, 3 vols.
(Leiden, 1975–1988).
78. As translated by David Grene in The History Herodotus (Chicago and London, 1987).
Introduction 53
79. The text is from the Ismailia Naos, also known as El-Arish Naos. See “Appendix:
Primary Sources.”
80. The implication is that Egypt was defeated because this warrior god had withdrawn his
protection.
81. One version of the Memphis decree is in the contemporary Demotic language and
script; the other is in a classicizing neo–Middle Egyptian language written in hieroglyphs.
The Rosetta Stone played an important role in the decipherment of the hieroglyphic script
in the nineteenth century CE. The Memphis decree is translated by R. S. Simpson in R.
Parkinson, Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment (London, 1999).
82. Among these other sources are a Ptolemaic copy of the Book of the Dead and texts for
Osiris rituals inscribed on temple walls. For translations, see “Appendix: Primary Sources”
under Lamentations.
83. Lévi-Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth,” in Myth: A Symposium, ed. T. A. Sebeok
(Bloomington and London, 1955), 85–86.
84. See the excellent survey by R. B. Finnestad, “Temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman
Periods: Ancient Traditions in New Contexts,” in Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. B. E.
Shafer (London and New York, 1998), 185–237.
85. The birth of Isis was celebrated at Dendara. This is an example of how a type of myth
that originally applied to only one god was adapted for other deities who had become important.
The classic publication on temple birth houses is F. Daumas, Les mammisis des
temples égyptiens (Paris, 1958).
86. Followers of the theory that drama was born from the coming together of myth and ritual
have cited the Festival of Victory as one of the world’s oldest plays. See H. W. Fairman,
The Triumph of Horus: An Ancient Egyptian Sacred Drama (London, 1974).
87. For discussions of all these sources, see R. B. Finnestad, Image of the World and
Symbol of the Creator (Wiesbaden, 1985); or B. Watterson, The House of Horus at Edfu
(Stroud, England, 1998).
88. See L. Lesko, “Ancient Egyptian Cosmogonies and Cosmologies,” in Shafer, Religion in
Ancient Egypt, 105–107.
89. For a French translation and commentary, see PJ in “Appendix: Primary Sources.” A
few episodes from Papyrus Jumilhac are translated into English by Hollis as an appendix to
The Ancient Egyptian “Tale of Two Brothers,” 171–176.
90. Manetho’s scheme of dividing Egyptian history into thirty dynasties is still used today.
91. For a French translation, see PV in “Appendix: Primary Sources.”
92. This story about the crowning of Horus and Seth is yet another variation on the myth
about how the Two Lords were reconciled. For these fragmentary tales, see W. J. Tait,
“Demotic Literature: Forms and Genres,” in Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian Literature,
175–190.
93. The Metternich Stela dates to the reign of Nectanebo II (360–343 BCE). Versions of some
of its spells were used 800 years earlier on a statue of Rameses III.
54 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
94. The divine forms on cippi and magical statues may derive from pattern books of
amuletic images kept in temple libraries. See L. Kákosy, “A New Source of Egyptian
Mythology and Iconography,” in Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of
Egyptologists, ed. C. Eyre (Leuven, Belgium, 1998), 619–624.
95. Strabo gave a particularly vivid account of watching sacred crocodiles being fed, an
event that had become something of a tourist attraction.
96. For most of Egyptian history there were about 750 hieroglyphic signs in use. By the
Roman Period the number of signs had risen to around 7,000, and the old signs were often
used in new ways. See “Figurative Hieroglyphs, or ‘Cryptography,’” in Parkinson, Cracking
Codes, 80–87.
97. See “Manetho and Chaeremon,” in G. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: An Historical
Approach to the Late Pagan Mind (Princeton, 1986), 52–95. Other accounts of Egyptian
priests make them venal and quarrelsome.
98. Translation by J. G. Griffiths, from his Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride (Swansea, Wales,
1970), 223.
99. For these two books, see M. Smith, The Liturgy of the Opening of the Mouth for
Breathing (Oxford, 1993); and F. T. Herbin, Le Livre de parcourir l’éternité (Leuven,
Belgium, 1994).
100. Other examples of continuing knowledge of ancient religious texts in the Roman
Period are provided in a version of the New Kingdom Book of Nut in Papyrus Carlsberg I
and the use of part of the Book of the Heavenly Cow in a compilation known as the Book
of the Fayum. For translations, see BofN and BHC in “Appendix: Primary Sources.”
101. This tale is part of a series of stories (the Petubastis cycle) set in the Third
Intermediate Period. Some commentators believe that Homer’s Iliad was an influence on
this cycle. By the Roman Period the Egyptians were claiming that Homer had been born in
Thebes and was a son of the god Thoth. For a translation of the Amazons’ story, see
Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 3:151–156.
102. See EofS in “Appendix: Primary Sources.” Part of a direct Greek translation of this
version survives and is thought to have had an influence on the development of Ancient
Greek fiction. See W. J. Tait, “Egyptian Fiction in Demotic and Greek,” in Greek Fiction,
ed. J. R. Morgan and R. Stoneman (London, 1994), 212–213.
103. The moral given in Aesop is that “a change of fortune can make the strongest man
need a weaker man’s help” (translation by S. A. Handford, Fables of Aesop [London, 1954],
41); in the Egyptian version the moral is “it is beautiful to do good to him who does it in
turn” (translation by Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature 3: 159).
104. At this point, Imhotep had been worshipped as a god for well over a thousand years,
but he was still treated as a historical figure in literature. This suggests that the Egyptians
were not prone to confuse historical and mythical characters.
105. For a summary of this important text, see R. Jasnow and K. T. Zauzich, “A Book of
Thoth?” in Eyre, Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists,
607–618. It has no connection with Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Thoth, which is about
Tarot cards.
Introduction 55
106. Such magical initiation rites are described in “How to Become a Magician: The Rites
of Initiation,” in F. Graf, Magic in the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1997),
89–117. For translations of the Setna stories, see Setna cycle in “Appendix: Primary
Sources.”
107. One of the four papyri also contains the most complete version of the Demotic Eye of
the Sun myth. The largest collection of spells is in the London-Leiden Magical Papyrus.
See J. H. Johnson, “Introduction to the Demotic Magical Papyri,” in The Greek Magical
Papyri in Translation, ed. H. D. Betz (Chicago and London, 1992), lv–lviii.
108. For surveys of the background to these difficult texts, see Fowden, The Egyptian
Hermes; and the introduction to B. P. Copenhaver, Hermetica (Cambridge, 1992).
109. For a fascinating account of the long, slow decline of Egyptian “paganism,” see D.
Frankfurter, Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance (Princeton, 1998).
110. The Arabic literature also referred to the terrifying guardians of such pagan sites—for
example, the Great Sphinx. See U. Haarmann, “Medieval Muslim Perceptions of Pharaonic
Egypt,” in Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 605–628.
111. All these attempts were fruitless because of their reliance on misleading information
in Classical authors such as Plutarch and Horapollo. See E. Iversen, The Myth of Egypt and
Its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition (Princeton, 1993).
112. Freud’s collection of figurines of Ancient Egyptian deities can be viewed at the Freud
Museum in London. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London, 1963),
Jung wrote of the Horus myth: “It is a myth which must have been told after human culture—
that is consciousness—had for the first time released men from the darkness of prehistoric
times” (translated by Richard and Clara Winston).
113. See Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, abridged ed. (London,
1922), 477–507.
114. For the arguments for and against this thesis, see the anthology The Myth and Ritual
Theory, edited by R. A. Segal (Malden and Oxford, 1998).
115. See his Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, 2 vols.
(London, 1987–1991). These books have contributed to a new interest in Ancient Egyptian
history and mythology among African American writers and artists.
116. Some of these stories are reprinted in C. Frayling, The Face of Tutankhamun (London
and Boston, 1992).
117. The fact that most of the excavators of Tutankhamun’s tomb survived to old age has
proved no impediment to the curse legend. For a survey of “Mummy” movies, see A. Lant,
“The Curse of the Pharaoh, or How Cinema Contracted Egyptomania,”’ in October 59
(1992): 86–112.
56 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
57
2
MYTHICAL TIME LINES
The Egyptians did not think of time as moving at the same rate for all
classes of beings or in all parts of the cosmos. For the dead, an hour in
the presence of the sun god was said to be equivalent to a lifetime in
Egypt. Nor was time always thought of as a linear progression. Historical
Egyptians lived in linear time, experienced by each person as past, present, and
future—like points on a straight line. King lists reflect this view of time, sometimes
arranging kings or dynasties one after another even when they reigned
contemporaneously. Yet the standard dating system started again with the
reign of each new king because the Egyptians also thought of time as moving
in cycles.
In these cycles, time appears to loop back on itself, and patterns of events
are repeated, often at fixed intervals. In this view of time the roles of cause and
effect can appear to be reversed, creating temporal paradoxes. Egyptian kings,
for example, were sometimes said to be their own fathers.
The main part of this mythical time line consists of a linear mythical
“history” in which I have laid out the principal events of Egyptian myth in the
order in which they should logically occur. It is important to bear in mind that
although everything in this section is drawn from original sources, no Ancient
Egyptian text that we know of attempts this kind of synthesis. I then look at
how the same events recur in different patterns in cyclical time.
LINEAR TIME
The mythical story of Egypt can be divided into seven stages: chaos (precreation),
the emergence of the creator, the creation of the world and its inhabitants,
the reign of the sun god, the period of direct rule by other deities, the
period of rule by semidivine kings (history), and the return to chaos.
Chaos
Summary: Before creation there was a state of chaos that contained the potential
for all life. This inchoate state was imagined as a dark watery domain of unlimited
depth and extent. Elements and qualities of chaos could be personified as gods and
goddesses. Some of these deities had to change or die to begin the creative process.
The origin of the universe was an intellectual problem that came to fascinate
the Egyptians. Texts that allude to the unknowable era before creation define
it as the time “‘before two things had developed.”1 The cosmos was not yet
divided into pairs of opposites such as earth and sky, light and darkness, male
and female, or life and death.
The Egyptians speculated that the primeval substance was watery and dark
and had no form and no boundaries. These primeval waters, known as the nu or
the nun, continued to surround the world even after creation and were thought
of as the ultimate source of the Nile. When personified as a deity, Nun could be
called the father and mother of the creator, because the creator was thought of
as coming into existence within the nun.
After creation, qualities of the primeval state, such as its darkness, were
retrospectively endowed with consciousness and became a group of deities
known as the Eight or the Ogdoad of Hermopolis (see “Deities, Themes, and
Concepts”). The Eight were imagined as amphibians and reptiles, fertile creatures
of the dark primeval slime. They were the forces that shaped the creator
or even the first manifestations of the creator. In order to become “the fathers
and mothers” of life, they had to change or, in some accounts, to die. Several
temples claimed to be the burial place of these primeval deities.
Amun and his female counterpart Amunet were often regarded as part of
the Eight and personified hidden power. When Amun became a national god, a
new theology made Amun the invisible, unknowable force that began the
movement toward independent life. In some accounts the Eight join together to
be fertilized by the “seed” of the serpent Amun Kem-atef, the “first primeval
god who gave birth to the primeval gods.”2
The serpent may have been considered an appropriate form for the spirit of
the creator because of its undivided body or because it periodically renewed itself
by shedding its skin. When creator gods such as Amun or Atum are spoken
of as serpents, they usually represent the positive aspect of chaos as an energy
force, but they had a negative counterpart in the great serpent Apophis. Apophis
represented the destructive aspect of chaos that constantly tried to overwhelm
all individual beings and reduce everything back to its primeval state of “oneness.”
So, even before creation began, the world contained the elements of its
own destruction.
58 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Emergence of the Creator
Summary: The creator attains consciousness and becomes lonely. He/she differentiates
the elements of chaos by speaking their names. The first light or the
first sound begins the process of creation. The creator appears as the sun god.
He may be born to a cow, emerge from a lotus on the water or from an egg, or
alight in the form of a bird on the first mound of solid land.
The creator was the “unique one in the nun” who existed in this womblike
environment as “one who is in his egg.” The creator was in an inert state, yet
this state contained the potential for all life. Passages in the Coffin Texts stress
that the “self-created god” came into being alone. For a group-oriented culture
such as that of the Egyptians, such loneliness must have been almost unimaginable.
The creator remained alone until his/her “heart became effective” and
he/she began to think and feel.
In Coffin Texts spell 76, the creator (here named as Atum) brings eight gods
into existence “by speaking with the nun,” presumably separating the elements
of chaos by the process of naming them. Other texts refer to the creator’s driving
back the primeval waters, perhaps by the power of spoken command, to create
a space in which to begin the work of creation.
Images of Emergence. The “primal event” of the emergence of the creator to
dispel the watery silent darkness could be represented in many different ways.
No single image or narrative was considered sufficient to express such a wonder.
Egyptian cosmogonies (creation accounts) often combine several different
traditions about the creator, but rarely in any kind of temporal framework.3
The first act of the creator might be an exhalation of breath or a great cry.
The first light came with the first appearance of the creator as the life-giving
power of the sun. This manifestation could be pictured as an eye, a child, or a
fiery bird. In Coffin Texts spell 75, although the creator is still alone in the nun,
he/she sends out his/her eye to illumine the darkness and search for other life.
Another image of the first sunrise was a blue lotus rising above the surface of
the nun (see “Lotus” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). From the New
Kingdom onward, a naked child or a ram-headed figure was shown sitting in the
lotus to represent the newborn sun.
The fertile aspect of the nun could be personified as the goddess Mehet-Weret,
whose name means the Great Flood or the Great Swimmer. She was usually
shown as a cow and was considered the mother of all the primeval beings, including
Apophis. Mehet-Weret was envisaged as giving birth to the sun child and lifting
him up on her horns. A New Kingdom hymn tells us that with the first light
the sky became like gold and the primeval waters like lapis-lazuli.
The sun might also be thought of as emerging from a “cosmic egg” laid by a
primeval bird (see under “Birds” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”) or, less often,
by a snake or a crocodile. The role of the primeval bird could also be to
break the silence. Some cosmogonies allude to a goose known as the Great
Honker or Cackler whose strident cry was the first sound. The shining benu bird
(see “Benu Bird” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”) brought both the first
noise and the first light to the nun. The creation myths inscribed in the Edfu
temple give this role to a falcon, who alights on a floating mass of vegetation.
Alternatively, the first bird was said to have found a resting place on the
first mound of dry land. The creator could not become fully active until there
was a place in which to exist. At this stage, the nun was thought of as a great
swamp from which the first land, the Primeval Mound, suddenly emerged.
This mound could be personified as the god Tatjenen, “the rising land.”
Tatjenen, who was often identified with Ptah, could also be called the “father”
of the creator.4 One of the sacred books at Edfu was the Book of the Mounds of
the First Time. This presents a primeval landscape of mounds, water, and reeds
60 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 11 . A pyramidion from a Late Period tomb showing the creator god Atum with the
primeval benu bird. The pyramidion itself may represent the Primeval Mound.
(Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
that is close to what the Nile valley
must have looked like before it
was settled by the first Egyptians.5
The creator could now begin the
work of creating the world and its
inhabitants.
Creation
Summary: At different periods and
in various theological centers, a
number of deities could be identified
with the creator who emerged
from the primeval waters. These
creator deities include the gods
Atum, Ra (often combined as Ra-
Atum), Shu, Ptah, Khnum, and
Amun-Ra and the goddesses Neith, Hathor, and Isis. Important stages in the
creation process were the establishment of maat, the divine order; the division
of beings into male and female; and the separation of earth and sky.
The Egyptian cosmos consisted of a divine realm in the upper sky; the
earth, with Egypt its center; and the Duat (or Dat), the underworld that was to
become the realm of the dead. The creator produced other deities and then
lesser beings such as people and animals.
The One Who Made Himself into Millions. In many Egyptian sources the creation
of life involves three elements: the creation of a body, the transfer to that
body of some part of the divine essence of the creator, and the animation of the
body by the breath of life. Some creator deities were more strongly associated
with one of these elements than with the others. Khnum, for example, was
chiefly a creator of bodies, whereas Shu and Amun-Ra were both gods of the unseen
breath of life. The second element, the transfer of the divine essence, eventually
led to the concept that all deities, or even all living beings, were not just
made by a transcendent creator but were in some sense forms of the creator.
From the New Kingdom onward, this was a distinctive feature of Egyptian religious
thought.
The creator was sometimes referred to as “the One Who Made Himself into
Millions” or “He Who Made Himself into Millions of Gods.”6 Creation could
be seen as a process of differentiation, in which one original force was gradually
divided (without necessarily diminishing itself) into the diverse elements that
made up the universe. The ways in which this could have happened were the
subject of much speculation.
The Heart and the Tongue. The intellectual powers that enabled the creator
to bring himself/herself into existence and to create other beings were sometimes
conceptualized as deities. The most important of these were the gods Sia,
Hu, and Heka. Sia was the power of perception or insight, which allowed the
creator to visualize other forms. Hu was the power of authoritative speech,
which enabled the creator to bring things into being by naming them. In Coffin
Texts spell 335, Hu and Sia are said to be with their “father” Atum every day. In
the illustrated Underworld Books of the New Kingdom, these two deities were
often shown accompanying the creator sun god.
The power by which the thoughts and commands of the creator became reality
was Heka (Magic). In Coffin Texts spell 261, the god Heka claims to have
been with the creator even in the primeval era. In the cosmogony of Neith
recorded in the Roman Period temple at Esna, this goddess creates the whole
world with seven magic words. When Isis came to be worshipped as a creator
deity during the same period, she was called the Mistress of the Word in the
Beginning.
From at least as early as the New Kingdom, the god Ptah could represent
the creative mind. Then Sia and Hu were identified as the heart and tongue of
Ptah. This concept is expounded in the so-called Memphite Theology and in
various hymns to Ptah. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the
organ of thought and feeling. So Ptah was said to have made the world after
planning it in his heart. It was “through what the heart plans and the tongue
commands” that everything was made. Typically, the Memphite Theology also
mentions other models of creation, such as the concept of the creator as Divine
Craftsman or as the biological source of all life. The Egyptians did not take any
one of these theories too literally. They were diverse but complementary attempts
to convey something of the ultimately unknowable mystery of creation.
The Divine Craftsman. Two deities, Ptah and Khnum, were sometimes credited
with physically “fashioning” the world and its inhabitants. Ptah was the
patron god of craftsmen and artists. He was particularly associated with sculpture
and metalworking. Ptah was said to have invented the Opening of the
Mouth ritual in which an adze and other tools were used to “bring to life” statues
and mummies.7 Hymns to Ptah speak of him designing and crafting the
world and “smelting the Two Lands” (Egypt). He was also said to make bodies
for kings out of electrum (an alloy of gold and silver), copper, and iron.
62 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Presumably these were the bodies that kings hoped to inhabit in the divine
realm.
The shaping of royal bodies was a task more usually attributed to Khnum.
Khnum was represented by a ram, an animal renowned for aggressive virility.
He was sometimes described as “begetting” the gods, but as a creator he was
usually celebrated as the divine craftsman who “formed everything” on his potter’s
wheel. Craftsmen were valued and well treated in Egyptian society, but
few of them attained high social status. Khnum’s original role seems to have
been as the divine potter who made things at the command of the creator.
When he became a form of the universal creator, Khnum’s name was usually
linked with those of more established creator deities such as Ra or Ptah.
The Hand of Atum. Before creation begins there is no division into genders.
The creator seems to include both the male and female principles. Creator
deities were commonly called “the father and mother of all things.” Deities
who were normally regarded as male, such as Atum, are described as “giving
birth” to other deities during the creative process.8
The actual means by which the creator reproduced were sometimes left
vague and sometimes described in terms of blunt sexual imagery. Pyramid
Texts (PT) spell 527 says that Atum took his penis in his hand and masturbated
“and so were born the two siblings, that is Shu and Tefnut.” In PT 600, Atum-
Khepri is said to be the one who spat out Shu and Tefnut.9 Several passages in
the Coffin Texts refer to Shu being exhaled from Atum’s nose and Tefnut being
spat from his mouth.
These apparently contradictory statements are clarified in later sources,
such as the Bremner-Rhind Papyrus and the Memphite Theology. Atum excites
his penis with his hand and takes the semen into his mouth. The vignettes to
some mythological papyri illustrate this moment in graphic detail. The mouth
of the creator acts as a substitute womb. Atum uses his powers of thought and
utterance to transform the seed into the first two gendered deities, who are expelled
from his mouth or through the nose and mouth.
The combination of biological and intellectual methods of creation is
stressed in the Memphite Theology, which states that the Ennead of Atum (the
first nine deities created) “came into existence through his seed and his fingers,
but the Ennead is the teeth and lips in this mouth that spoke the name of every
thing and from which Shu and Tefnut came forth.”
Once the twins had been born, the sexual identity of Atum becomes fixed
as a father. A further development was the personification of the Hand of Atum
as a goddess, thus giving him a sexual partner. Since the Hand goddess came directly
from the creator, she was his “daughter” as well as his consort. This god-
Mythical Time Lines 63
dess was often identified with Hathor, who came to be regarded as the female
creative principle.
The twins sometimes appear to be the male and female aspects of Atum.
He embraces them to transfer his ka (vital essence) to them. In Coffin Texts
spell 80, Shu and Tefnut are described as living with their father in the primeval
waters. The three deities cling tightly to each other as if they were still one entity.
For creation to continue, Shu and Tefnut had to become fully differentiated
from the creator.
The Lost Children. There are some allusions in the Coffin Texts to Atum becoming
separated from his children. Shu and Tefnut seem to have drifted away
from their father and become lost in the darkness of the primeval waters. In
Coffin Texts spell 76, Shu is made to say that “Atum once sent his Sole Eye
searching for me and Tefnut, my sister. I made light in the darkness and it
found me.” This eye is usually called the daughter of Ra, rather than of Atum,
because she is part of the creator’s solar aspect.10 The Sole Eye is the disk of the
sun envisaged as a goddess. She can function separately from the sun god but remains
a part of him. The search for the lost children in Coffin Texts spell 76 is
one of the many myths about the first sunrise. Shu, the god of air, creates a void
in the primeval waters so that the solar eye can shine for the first time.11
A fuller version of this myth found in the Bremner-Rhind Papyrus has a
different emphasis. The Lord of All recounts how Shu and Tefnut were nurtured
by the god of the primeval waters, “with my Eye (following) after them
from the time they became separated from me.” When the creator came fully
into existence on the Primeval Mound, Shu and Tefnut rejoiced and returned
with the Eye. “Then she became furious after she had come back and found
that I had put another in her place.” The creator has apparently grown a new
eye/disk.
To appease his angry “daughter,” the creator transforms her into the first
snake, the uraeus cobra, and puts her in the place of honor on his forehead.12
This is one of several myths about the anger and appeasement of the solar eye.
The creator’s relationships with the aspects of his being that are embodied as
daughter-goddesses are crucial to this stage of creation.
The Divine Order and the Separation of Earth and Sky. In Coffin Texts spell
80, new identities are given to Shu and Tefnut. Atum names Shu as Life and
Tefnut as Maat (Truth, Justice, Order). By naming these qualities, the creator
brings them into existence. Atum embraces the two forms of his daughter,
Tefnut and Maat.13 Nun, the god of the primeval waters, tells Atum to kiss
Maat and place her at his nose “so that your heart may live.” Maat the goddess
64 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
was the favorite daughter of the creator, the one who brought her father joy.
Maat as a concept was the ordering and governing principle of the created
world.14 The opposite of maat was isfet (chaos, disorder) or gereg (wrongdoing,
evil). The creator and all his/her creations were to live on and through maat.
All Egyptian rulers, and those who helped them to govern, were supposed to establish
the state of maat on earth, “as it was in the First Time.”
A series of cosmic events was part of the First Time. Shu and Tefnut separated
from their father and came together in the first sexual union of male and
female. Tefnut then gave birth to another pair of deities, a son Geb, who was associated
with the earth, and a daughter Nut, who was associated with the sky.
Geb and Nut embraced each other so ardently that there was no room between
them for anything to exist. Nut conceived children but could not or would not
give birth to them. Geb and Nut seemed to want to become one, reversing the
movement toward diversity. If creation was to continue, another separation was
necessary.
In his new manifestation of giver of life, Shu separated his children Geb and
Nut. According to Coffin Texts spell 76, Shu lifted up his daughter Nut and set
his son Geb under his feet. This image was first portrayed in detail on coffins
and funerary papyri at the end of the New Kingdom. Geb is shown sprawling at
the bottom of the picture, sometimes still in a state of sexual arousal. Shu
stands with his arms raised supporting the arched body of Nut (see Figure 42).
This arm position was the hieroglyphic symbol that wrote the word ka (life
force or vital essence), which helps to emphasize that Shu is making life possible.
Many other beings, including the entities known as the Heh gods, can be
shown assisting Shu to support the sky above the earth.
Shu created a space between earth and sky in which creatures could breathe
the air that gives life. In this space, the sun could rise for the first time and
drive away the primeval darkness. This first sunrise is “the perfect moment”
celebrated in numerous Egyptian texts and images. From this moment the creator
was chiefly manifest in the world as the sun god Ra. The boundaries of the
physical world became fixed, though the upper sky (Nut), the atmosphere (Shu),
and the earth (Geb) were still encircled by the dark primeval waters. As part of
establishing the divine order, Shu and Tefnut also become two different types of
time. “Shu is Eternal Recurrence and Tefnut is Eternal Sameness.”15 This began
a great cycle in which everything had to change to survive and yet everything
remained fundamentally the same.
The separation of Nut and Geb made it possible for their children to be
born. These were the gods Osiris, Seth, and Horus “the Two-Eyed” and the goddesses
Isis and Nephthys. Some sources leave out Horus. A tradition as old as
the Pyramid Texts had Seth break violently out of his mother’s womb. Seth was
Mythical Time Lines 65
a god whose nature linked him with chaos, so the birthday of Seth was said to
be the day on which disorder and strife first entered the world.
Osiris, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys, together with Geb and Nut, Shu and
Tefnut, and Ra-Atum, made up the four-generational group of deities known as
the Ennead of Heliopolis or the Great Ennead. Horus, the sky falcon whose two
eyes were the sun and the moon, was probably left out of the nine because he
was usually thought of as a manifestation of the creator sun god. The number
nine was sometimes used by the Egyptians to indicate “many,” so the establishment
of the Ennead can stand for the creation of the whole pantheon of deities.
Other deities were said to come into existence through words spoken by the
creator or from substances exuded from his/her body, such as saliva, sweat, or
blood.
Now that a world existed, it could be inhabited by the whole range of beings
conceived of by the creator. These included all manner of animals, birds,
fish, and reptiles “which are on the back of Geb.” In addition to these, there
was “god’s herd”—humanity.
The Creation of Humanity. The creation of humanity does not occupy a central
position in Egyptian myth. Some creation accounts omit humans altogether.
They are only mentioned in passing in the Memphite Theology, listed
between gods and cattle (a term covering all animals). The Egyptians sometimes
divided sentient beings into four types: gods, kings, the spirits of the dead, and
living people.
The Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom concentrate on the afterlife of the
king and have little to say about living people, so it is not surprising that they
contain no allusions to myths about the creation of humanity. Such myths
seem to have been well established by the time of the Middle Kingdom. Several
spells in the Coffin Texts include speeches referring to the creation of humanity.
In Coffin Texts spell 1130, the Lord of All says that he created deities from
his sweat and “people from the tears of my eye.” Everything that came from a
god’s body was deemed to be divine and capable of creative power. As with the
sneezing and spitting that produced Shu and Tefnut, wordplay is involved. The
Egyptian words for people and for tears were homophones; they sounded similar
although they would have been written differently. Most such mythical wordplay
was ephemeral or relatively insignificant, but the association of people
with divine tears was a popular theme for over 2,000 years.
Several different traditions about the tears of the creator are discernible
even in Middle Kingdom writings. In Coffin Texts spell 80, these tears belong to
the period of pre-creation. Humanity, it says, came forth from the Sole Eye,
which was sent out while the creator Atum was still alone and inert in the
66 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
primeval waters. The cause of the Eye’s weeping is not stated, but it may be
from loneliness as it searches for other beings. The potential to produce humans
is contained in the Eye, but they cannot come into existence until the world
has been created. This is described later in the text, when Shu separates the
earth and sky and gives the breath of life to all creatures on earth, including
people, “in accordance with the command of Atum.” So Atum wills the creation
of humanity, but another deity carries it out.
In Coffin Texts spell 714, humanity is said to have sprung from tears wept
by the creator because of the anger against him, tears that caused a temporary
state of blindness. This may be a reference to the rage of the Sole Eye when she
discovers that the creator has grown a new eye in her absence. The creator’s
blindness implies a temporary loss of his power of creative insight or perception
(Sia). Humanity is the imperfect product of rage and misery: a genesis suited to
the rebellious role humanity plays in mythical history.
One hymn to the creator states that humanity came forth from the two divine
eyes, which are the sun and the moon.16 In the account of creation in the
Bremner-Rhind Papyrus, people originate in the tears wept by the creator on the
return of Shu and Tefnut. It is not clear whether these are tears of joy at the reunion
with his children or tears of sorrow at the angry reaction of the solar eye.
In the cosmogony of Neith, the sun god Ra is said to weep when he is first born
because he finds himself alone and unable to see his mother. It is these tears of
sorrow and loneliness that produce humanity. In contrast, deities arise as a byproduct
of Ra’s joy when his mother, Neith, returns. So, most versions of the
tears myth provide an explanation for the perpetually sorrowful and imperfect
state of humanity.
In spite of this imperfection, the creator was said to have done many things
to help humanity. In Coffin Texts 1130, the Lord of All describes his four good
deeds. These were to create the four winds to give the breath of life to every
body, to make the annual Nile flood so that everyone would get enough food, to
create everyone with equal potential, and to make every person’s heart “remember
the West.” This last deed implies that from the beginning humans
were destined for an eternal life in the Beautiful West, the realm of the dead. A
Middle Kingdom text set in the turbulent First Intermediate Period compares
humanity with a flock and the (unnamed) creator with the good shepherd who
cares for them. “For their sakes He made heaven and earth, and drove away the
rapacity of the waters. So that their nostrils should live He made the winds.
They are images of Him, come forth from His flesh. For their sakes He rises in
heaven. For them He made plants and flocks. . . .”17
New Kingdom hymns to the creator god Amun also refer to god making people
“in his own image” but are vague about how this was done. In a hymn to Ptah
Mythical Time Lines 67
this god is said to have “crafted people” as well as fashioning the physical forms
of the gods. The bodies of deities were usually said to be made of precious metals
and stones, but those of people were made from mud or clay. These were the materials
used by the creator god Khnum, who “formed all on his potter’s wheel.”
Khnum did not perform this task just once during the First Time. His
wheel was said to turn every day. He appears to be a god of continuous creation,
working to make the bodies of all creatures destined to live on earth. Khnum
shapes a body for each individual before they are born and a double for their ka
or vital force. Hymns in the temple of Esna elaborate on this idea. They list all
the parts of the human body created by Khnum and the functions they are to
perform, such as the tongue for speaking and the legs for walking. The list includes
both male and female body parts.
The Egyptian word for people used in creation texts was normally written
with pictures of a man and a woman following the phonetic part of the word.
Humanity seems to have been divided into two genders from the beginning.
This is in contrast to other ancient mythologies that made woman an afterthought
or an offshoot of the male body. One surviving text may suggest the
existence of a myth of this type. This is the New Kingdom story known as the
Two Brothers (see “Mythology in Literature” under “New Kingdom and Third
Intermediate Period ” in “Introduction”).
After being falsely accused of trying to rape his brother’s wife, Bata goes to
live in a remote valley. There he meets the Ennead of Heliopolis. These nine
gods decide to give Bata a wife to relieve his loneliness. Khnum shapes a
woman with a body more beautiful than any other, and the divine exhalations
of the Ennead give her life. This “perfect woman” soon leaves Bata to marry the
king of Egypt and subsequently murders her husband in several of his incarnations.
In this story, women seem to be regarded as intrinsically flawed.18 Much
the same could be said, however, of most categories of being in the Egyptian
universe. Even the creator was not always all-powerful or all-knowing.
Period of Direct Rule by the Creator Sun God
Summary: The creator sun god, usually identified as Ra, ruled the earth for a
long period. There was no separation between gods and people during this era.
Some deities defied the authority of the sun god when he began to age. The goddess
Isis plotted to make her unborn son the heir of Ra. The Eye of Ra quarreled
with her father but was persuaded to return to defend him. When humanity rebelled
against his rule, Ra sent his Eye to destroy the evildoers and withdrew to
live in the sky.
68 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Most Egyptian chronologies start with a mythical period when Egypt and
the rest of the world were ruled directly by creator gods. The creator was
thought of as living in a palace in Egypt, the most favored part of his creation.
Many cultures have a myth of a lost golden age, when gods or semidivine rulers
presided over a world without pain or conflict. The Egyptian material only
partly fits this pattern.
In the reign of Ra, the gods, including Maat, live on earth, and the creator
cares for his creation in person. Everything should be in harmony with the divine
order, but two things prevent this age from remaining one of perfect peace
and joy. First, the sun god gradually grows old; second, there are plots and rebellions
against his authority. Peace and joy do not generate interesting stories, so
it is hardly surprising that the only myths set in this era deal with the decline
and end of the sun god’s reign.
The aging of the sun god is described in a story known in modern times as
Isis and Ra or the True Name of Ra. Its ancient title places it among “the spells
for warding off poison from the First Time,” and the narrator is the scorpion
goddess Serqet. Her monologue forms part of a healing spell, but it is composed
in an excellent literary style.19 As the story occurs in few sources, it cannot be
seen as a very important part of the mythical cycle, but the names of the sun
god recorded in the story reflect the kind of theological speculation found in
New Kingdom hymns to the creator. Gaining power over a supernatural being
by discovering its secret “true name” is a constant theme of Egyptian magical
and funerary texts and a common motif in the folktales of many cultures.
The True Name of Ra. The story begins with a statement by Serqet that the
creator “made heaven, earth, the waters, the breath of life, gods, people, small
and large cattle, reptiles, birds, and fishes.” Deities and people were both ruled
by the creator in his identity of Ra. He appeared in many forms and was known
by many names, but none of these was his true name. This name was concealed
in his stomach to prevent any hostile force from using it against him.
Only one deity dared to challenge Ra’s authority; that was his “daughter”
Isis. She was “cleverer than millions of gods.” She knew everything in heaven
and earth except the name of Ra. So she “plotted in her heart how to discover
the name of this noble god.” Isis’s opportunity comes when Ra starts to show
symptoms of old age, such as a drooping mouth and a tendency to drool. Isis
finds some of Ra’s saliva on the ground. She mixes it with earth and shapes it
into a snake. When the snake comes to life, she leaves it at a crossroads where
Ra passes every day.
When Ra next walks this road to view his creation, he is bitten by the unseen
snake. The poison burns like fire, and Ra gives a terrible scream that dis-
Mythical Time Lines 69
turbs all the gods. As the snake
has come from the body of Ra
just like the Eye goddess, it presumably
has the same terrible
fiery poison as that goddess’s
snake form. At first, Ra is unable
to speak because his lips
are trembling and his limbs are
shaking. “The poison had overwhelmed
his body like the inundation
overwhelms everything
in its path.” Then the
sun god takes courage and explains
to his followers that he
has been stung by an unknown
creature, not created by him.
He summons his “children,”
the other gods, to see if any of
them can help him.
The gods are distraught at
the catastrophe that has overtaken
Ra. Isis pretends to be as
bewildered and upset as the
rest. She asks Ra if one of his
own creations has rebelled
against him and promises to
destroy the attacker with her
powerful magic. Ra then tells
again how he was stung while
walking through the Two
Lands (Egypt) because “my
heart longed to see what I have
created.” He gives a vivid description
of the symptoms of snake bite. He feels colder than water and hotter
than fire; he is drenched with sweat and has lost his sight.
Isis claims that she can help if Ra will tell her his name. Ra describes himself
by many phrases that define his role as creator. He is the one who created
the physical world, he “made the bull for the cow so sex came into being.” He
is the one who causes the Nile to flood. He is the one who divided the year into
seasons and the day into hours. He ends by proclaiming that he is called Khepri
in the morning, Ra at noon, and Atum in the evening, but none of these is his
true name; so the pain continues.
Isis insists that she cannot heal him without knowing his true name. When
the pain gets worse, Ra gives in and whispers his name to Isis. The actual true
name is not given in the story.20 Ra tells Isis that when the time comes, she can
pass on the secret to Horus, the son who will be born to her. Then Isis recites
magical words that drive the poison out of Ra and destroy it. The mention of
Horus at the end of the narrative provides a justification for the behavior of Isis.
By gaining knowledge of the secret name to pass on to her son, she is ensuring
that Horus will become the ruler of Egypt. The Egyptian audience for this story
would know that her marvelous child, Horus, is himself destined to be poisoned
in a similar way by a close relative and only cured through the secret
knowledge of one of the gods.
Isis was not the only goddess to act against her “father,” the creator sun
god. Isis acted in a secret manner, but the goddess known as the Eye of Ra
openly defied his authority. The story of the quarrel between the solar eye and
her father and its eventual resolution is sometimes known as the myth of the
Distant Goddess.
The Distant Goddess. As described earlier, the Sole Eye was a separable active
force even when the creator was still inert in the primeval waters. The Eye was
sometimes treated as a female form of the sun god, but she was also called the
“daughter of Ra.” Various important goddesses were associated with this role,
most commonly Bastet, Hathor, Mut, Sekhmet, Tefnut, and Wadjyt. For reasons
that are rarely stated, the Eye goddess becomes angry and uncontrollable and refuses
to stay with her father, Ra. Originally, this may only have been thought to
happen when the Eye returned with Shu and Tefnut. Later versions of the myth
seem to relate to the period when the world and humanity were well established.
In these versions, the Eye goes to a distant realm, sometimes identified
with the Nubian or Libyan deserts. There she rages in her terrible leonine form,
destroying everything she meets. Ra is left vulnerable to his enemies, so he
sends out one or more of the gods to persuade his daughter to return. This is a
dangerous undertaking because the fiery power of the solar eye is stronger than
all other deities.
In some versions the chosen divine messenger is Onuris (Inhur). Onuris
was a hunter god whose name means “the one who brings back the distant
one.” The Onuris myth is only known from scattered allusions. It seems that as
the most powerful and cunning of hunters, Onuris is able to track down and
subdue the solar lioness. He brings her back to Egypt and is rewarded with marriage
to the lion goddess.
Other texts name Shu as the one who goes to persuade his sister-consort
Tefnut to return. A reference to Shu in Coffin Texts spell 75 as having “pacified
her who is in the middle of her rage” may allude to this mythical role. Thoth
sometimes accompanies Shu or undertakes the mission on his own.21 As “the
heart and tongue” of the gods, Thoth uses wise words to appease the dangerous
goddess.
Several versions of an elaborate literary treatment of this myth were current
in the late first millennium BCE. In the longest of these, Hathor-Tefnut is
roaming the distant southern desert in the form of a “Nubian cat.” Thoth disguises
himself as a dog-faced baboon to approach the angry goddess. He alternately
harangues and cajoles her. Thoth lectures her about her duty and dignity
as the daughter of Ra. He tells her about the desolate and gloomy state that
Egypt has fallen into without her bright presence. He paints word pictures of
the delicious food offerings and the singing and dancing she will receive in the
72 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 14. A dwarf god celebrating the return of the Distant Goddess. A relief in a temple which
originally stood on the island of Philae. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
temples of Egypt if she returns. Thoth also tells her a series of entertaining animal
fables on the theme of cosmic justice.
The best known of these is the story of the lion and the mouse.22 It tells of
a mighty lion who (like the Distant Goddess) inspired fear wherever he went.
One day, in the remote mountains where the lion lived, he met a panther suffering
horrible wounds. The lion asked the panther who had pulled out his fur and
ripped his skin. The panther replied that it was “Man.” The lion did not know
what men were, but he resolved to find Man and punish him.
On his journey he encountered chained horses, donkeys, cows, and oxen.
The lion asked them who had imprisoned them, and they all replied “Man.”
Then the lion found a bear and another lion who had both been tricked and tortured
by Man. The lion vowed that he would make Man suffer the same pain he
had inflicted on all these animals.
As the lion searched for Man, a tiny mouse ran under his paw. The mouse
begged the lion not to crush him. He pointed out that he was too small to satisfy
the lion’s appetite. The mouse promised that if the lion gave him his life,
he would one day save the lion in return. The lion laughed at this, because he
thought that no one was powerful enough to endanger him, but he let the
mouse go anyway.
The lion did not realize how cunning Man was. A hunter had set a net over a
hidden pit. The lion fell into the trap and was caught in the meshes of the net and
bound with leather straps. He struggled for hours but could not free himself. In
the middle of the night, the little mouse came and told the lion that he had come
to repay him for the gift of life, because “it is beautiful to do good.” The mouse
gnawed through the straps and ropes until the lion was free. Then the mouse
climbed into the lion’s mane, and they went back to the mountains together.
The implication of this and the other fables is that if the destructive anger
of the solar eye is not balanced by the justice and truth personified by Maat, the
world will slide into chaos. The volatile goddess is not easy to persuade. One
vivid passage describes how she becomes angry with Thoth and transforms
from a cat into the terrible solar lioness whose eyes and nostrils spurt flame.
Then “Thoth jumped like a frog, he quivered like a grasshopper.”
Eventually, Thoth lures the goddess back toward Egypt. On the borders she
is greeted with music and dancing that help to transform her into the “beautiful
of face.” This is the first of a series of benevolent forms of the Eye goddess.23 An
obscure passage deals with an attack on the goddess while she is sleeping.
Thoth wakes her in time, and the forces of chaos are defeated. Eventually the
goddess reaches Memphis, the capital of Egypt, where she is transformed into
Hathor of the Southern Sycamore and joyfully reunited with her father. She is
Mythical Time Lines 73
needed to defend the creator sun god from his enemies. Chief among these, as
in the fable of the lion and the mouse, is “Man.”
In many mythologies, the gods make several attempts at creating people before
they are satisfied. Such myths usually involve the destruction of the unsatisfactory
part of humanity. As early as the Middle Kingdom, there are references
to the creator deciding to destroy humanity and abandon the earth.24 The fullest
version of this myth is given in a text known as the Book of the Heavenly Cow,
which is inscribed in five royal tombs of the New Kingdom. The earliest copy is
on one of the large golden shrines surrounding the coffins of King
Tutankhamun.25
The Destruction of Humanity. After Ra had become the ruler of both gods
and men,
Humanity plotted against him, while his majesty, may he live, may he prosper,
may he be healthy, had grown old. His bones became silver, his flesh became
gold, his hair true lapis-lazuli. When his majesty saw how humanity was plotting
against him, his majesty said to his followers “Summon for me, my Eye, Shu,
Tefnut, Geb, Nut and the father and mothers who were with me when I was in
the primeval waters, as well as the god Nun.26 Let him bring his followers with
him, but bring them secretly in case the humans see and their hearts escape.
The gods and goddesses all came and asked Ra to speak. He told them,
“Humanity, which came into being from my Eye, is plotting against me. Advise
me what you would do about it.” Nun and the other deities advise Ra to send
his Eye against the rebels. “No Eye is more able to smite them. Let it go down
as Hathor.”
The guilty ones among humanity flee into the desert through fear of Ra,
but Hathor slaughters them and wades in their blood. When she returns to Ra,
she tells him that she has “overpowered humanity and it was sweet to my
heart.” Ra replies, “I shall have power over them as king by culling them.”
Thus, says the text, “the Powerful One came into being.”27
The goddess intends to continue her slaughter the next day, but for reasons
that are not explained, Ra has changed his mind. He summons messengers who
can travel as fast as shadows and sends them to fetch a large quantity of a red
mineral. Then he orders the Side-Lock Wearer in Heliopolis, a title of the high
priest of Ra, to grind up the mineral while his maid servants mash barley to make
beer. They make 7,000 jars of beer and add the red mineral to it to make the beer
look like blood. Ra has the beer taken to the place where the goddess plans to destroy
humanity. Before dawn Ra pours the red beer out until the fields are flooded
to a depth of “three palms.”28 When the goddess arrives at dawn, she sees her own
74 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
beautiful reflection in the flood. “She drank and it delighted her heart. She came
back drunk without having noticed humanity.” Ra welcomed her back and from
that day on alcohol was drunk during the festivals of Hathor.29
It is not clear whether Ra took pity on humanity after the first day’s slaughter
or whether he only wanted to save the portion of humanity that he regarded
as innocent. The latter is probably implied by the fact that the people killed on
the first day have fled to the desert, part of the realm of chaos. These people become
Enemies of Ra, a group that is shown in the Underworld Books being horribly
tortured in the afterlife. The second day’s slaughter is to take place in
fields, presumably in the agricultural land of the Nile valley, usually associated
with the realm of order.
The goddess Maat was sometimes said to have been sent down to live
among humanity. She would stay with a virtuous person even after their death,
but in times of general disorder and strife she would withdraw. Humanity was
sometimes divided into the Followers of Horus (good) and the Followers of Seth
(bad). This division appears to justify the ruthless destruction of many humans
by the gods. A ritual drama inscribed on the walls of the temple of Horus of
Edfu describes a rebellion by the people of Nubia in the 363rd year of Ra’s reign.
The rebels are tricked into killing each other, and their leader, Seth, is beheaded.
A myth in Papyrus Jumilhac tells how the goddess Isis transforms herself
into a form of Hathor, slaughters all the Followers of Seth with fire, and
wades in their blood. This might seem to be a direct borrowing from the Book
of the Heavenly Cow, but it should probably be seen as an example of a repeating
pattern of events.
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In the Book of the Heavenly Cow, even though the rebels have been defeated,
the world can never be the same again. Ra announces that he is sick and
weary, and he cannot bear to remain on earth. Nun, the god of the primeval waters,
orders Shu and Nut to help Ra. Nut is transformed into a cow, and Ra rides
away on her back. As the earth darkens, some of humanity beg Ra to stay, and
they shoot at his enemies. This, says the text, was how death came into being.
From this point on, humanity has to fight and die to maintain the divine order.
Nut carries Ra up into the heavens, and the single creator god transforms
himself into many heavenly bodies. He creates the fields of paradise for the spirits
of the dead. Nut “began to tremble because of the height,” so Ra creates the
Heh gods who live in twilight. Shu and the Heh gods support the body of Nut.
Then Ra tells Geb to warn the powerful serpents that live under the earth not
to abuse their magic because he will still look down on them. Ra puts Osiris in
charge of humanity and calls “the moon of Thoth” into being, so that Thoth
can rule the night sky as his deputy. This begins the era when the world was
ruled by a series of lesser gods.
Mythical Time Lines 75
Period of Rule by Other Gods
Summary: After the creator had withdrawn, the earth was ruled by a series of
gods. Violent struggles sometimes accompanied the transfer of power from one
generation to the next. Osiris, son of Geb, was chosen as king of Egypt and
ruled with his sister, Isis. Their ideal reign was brought to an end by the jealousy
of their brother, Seth. This god and his followers murdered Osiris and mutilated
his body. With the aid of magic, Isis was able to revive the body of Osiris
long enough for her to conceive a son. Isis fled to the marshes where she gave
birth to Horus.
Both the child Horus and the body of Osiris were frequently attacked by
Seth and his followers. Horus survived to challenge Seth’s right to rule Egypt.
The two gods fought each other in many different ways. The Eye of Horus was
damaged by Seth, and the testicles of Seth were damaged by Horus. Thoth restored
the damaged Eye, and eventually Horus prevailed. He became king of
Egypt and was reconciled with Seth. Horus performed rites that helped Osiris to
rise again as king of the Underworld. In time, Horus was succeeded as king of
Egypt by a series of gods and demigods.
The Reigns of Shu, Geb, and Osiris. Egyptian king lists trace the ancestry of
historical kings back into a mythical age. According to Manetho’s history of
Egypt, this age lasted for over 11,000 years.30 The order of the rulers in this divine
dynasty was not fixed. Creator deities such as Ptah or Ra sometimes begin
the list of divine ancestors, but either Shu or Geb may be named as the first
god-kings of Egypt. Other sources treat Osiris or his son Horus as the first
Egyptian kings. In stories such as Astarte and the Sea (see “Astarte” in “Deities,
Themes, and Concepts”) and the Two Brothers, the Great Ennead seem to rule
as a group. The idea that each generation of the Ennead must have ruled in turn
is probably a later rationalization of mythical history to fit an established pattern
of royal succession.
Hymns to Shu in the Harris Magical Papyrus hail this god as the eldest son
and heir of Ra and the king of Upper and Lower Egypt. The myth of Shu’s separation
of his children Geb and Nut to create the cosmos seems at some point to
have been reinterpreted in more human terms of sexual jealousy and father-son
rivalry. The latent hostility between Shu and his son, Geb, is made explicit in a
text of the fourth century BCE.31 Like Ra before him, Shu has to contend with
the forces of chaos and with rebels against the divine order. Geb challenges
Shu’s leadership, which causes the latter to withdraw from the world. Geb either
rapes his mother, Tefnut, or takes her as his chief queen; thus he separates
Shu from his sister-wife, as Shu had previously separated Geb from his sister-
wife. That Geb’s claim to the throne is disputed is clear from an episode in
which he tries to put on his father’s headdress and is burned by its serpent
guardian. Eventually, Geb is accepted as ruler and has to rally his forces to defend
Egypt against the “children of Apophis.”
More usually, Geb was regarded as the legitimate ruler of everything on
earth. In the Book of the Heavenly Cow, Geb seems to be the chosen heir of the
departing sun god. The warnings in this text about the need to control “the
snakes who are in the earth and the water” suggest that Geb’s reign was not
thought of as a peaceful one. In the fragmentary tale of Astarte and the Sea, a
sea monster opposes the gods and exacts tribute from Geb and Nut. A few scattered
references allude to a myth in which Osiris tries to seize power from his
father, Geb.32
When Geb passed on the throne to his eldest son, Osiris, it might be logical
to assume that he withdrew under the earth as Ra and Shu had withdrawn to
the sky. There is, however, no clear account of this happening. After the reign
Mythical Time Lines 77
Figure 15. A ruler of the fourth century BCE worships Osiris Wenenefer (center), shown as an
idealized king of Egypt. Relief in the temple of Behbeit el-Hagar. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
of Osiris, Geb takes on the role of judge in the Divine Tribunal of the gods. This
Tribunal usually seems to meet in Egypt itself rather than in the underworld.
In most Egyptian sources, the reign of Osiris is only described in the
vaguest terms. Osiris is the good king, and Isis is his queen and chief protector.
The oldest references to Osiris link him with the astral or the funerary spheres.
By the end of the Old Kingdom it became customary for all kings to be regarded
as a form of Osiris after they died. The idea that Osiris had once reigned on
earth as these kings did probably postdates this development.
When Greek writers began to take an interest in the myths of Osiris, they
recreated Osiris and Isis as the great “culture heroes” who taught agriculture
and crafts to the peoples of the world and established law and religion. Plutarch
claimed that Osiris had civilized the whole world, a way of acknowledging the
cultural debt that the Greeks felt they owed to Egypt. For the Egyptians, “culture
heroes” were largely unnecessary, since most aspects of civilization were
already implicit in the creator’s establishment of maat.
The Murder of Osiris. The death of Osiris is one of the most important events
in Egyptian myth and one of the most obscure. There are no detailed accounts of
the murder until the late first millennium BCE, and even these occur in descriptions
of Egyptian religion by foreigners. In the Pyramid Texts, Seth is named as
the attacker of Osiris and, by implication, as his killer. In Pyramid Texts spell
477, Seth claims to be taking revenge for a kick that Osiris had given him. Later
tales loosely based on the Osiris myth make sexual jealousy a motive for the
falling out between the two brothers. Some Egyptologists have argued that Osiris
was originally a god of the dead rather than a god who died,33 but once the concept
of Osiris’s death was established, a slayer had to be identified.
Many Egyptian texts imply that Seth took the form of a dangerous animal,
such as a wild bull, a wild ass, or a crocodile, to kill his brother in a lonely
place. The Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts allude to Osiris being cast down
or trampled and his body thrown in the Nile. In later times it was often stated
that Osiris died by drowning. Being a god, Osiris probably had to be killed in
several different ways to render him permanently dead.
A belief developed that the attack on Osiris was a unique and terrible
crime, carried out on the “night of the great storm.” Yet in theological terms,
his was a necessary death. By dying, Osiris becomes ruler of the underworld and
a source of life for others. A remarkable dialogue in Book of the Dead spell 175
has Osiris complain about his sad fate to Atum. The creator god replies that
Osiris has been favored beyond all others. He has been granted an eternal kingdom
in the “land of silence,” whereas his son will be the perpetual ruler in the
land of the living. Many Egyptian thinkers tried to make sense of death by mak-
78 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
ing something positive out of the death of Osiris, but it is the loneliness and despair
of Osiris that is the most memorable element in this dialogue.
Early allusions to the death of Osiris all imply that it took place in a remote
spot with no witnesses. Classical writers change this into a public assassination.
Diodorus Siculus (whose visit to Egypt is described in “Introduction”) says that
Osiris was butchered by “his brother Typhon” (Seth). Typhon divided the body
into twenty-six pieces and gave one piece to each of his followers to keep.
Plutarch relates that in the twenty-eighth year of Osiris’s reign, Typhon
(Seth) and his followers plotted against him. Typhon secretly obtained the exact
measurements of his brother’s body and had a beautiful chest made to fit it.34
Typhon displayed the chest at a feast and promised to give it to whoever could
fit inside it. Seth’s seventy-two followers all tried the chest, but it did not fit
any of them. Finally Osiris lay down in the chest. As soon as he did so, the conspirators
bolted on the lid and sealed the chest with molten lead. Then they
threw it into a branch of the Nile, which carried the chest out into the
Mediterranean sea.
Isis was away in the city of Coptos, but she heard a terrible lament from
the deities of the northern marshes and knew that Osiris was dead. She
searched Egypt for the body and followed sightings of the chest all the way to
Byblos in the Lebanon.35 There the chest had grown into a marvelous tree that
the king of Byblos had felled and made into a pillar in his palace. Isis stayed in
the palace for a while in disguise before declaring herself and demanding the pillar
containing her husband’s coffin. She brought the coffin back to the Delta,
but one night Typhon found it. He tore the body into fourteen parts and scattered
them throughout Egypt. Isis searched for the parts and buried each in the
place where she found it. The penis of Osiris had been eaten by fish, so she had
to replace this with a model.36 Some parts of Plutarch’s narrative have few parallels
in Egyptian sources, but from the Pyramid Texts onward, Isis is presented
as a grieving wife searching the country for her murdered husband.
Isis is usually helped by her sister, Nephthys, and both goddesses may take
bird form to carry out the search. When Isis finds the body or its parts, she restores
them to wholeness. This originally seems to have meant that Isis was
able to reverse the putrefaction of the flesh so feared by the Egyptians.
By the end of the second millennium BCE, the idea of the mutilation of the
body by Seth was firmly established. This concept was greatly elaborated in the
Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. Lists on temple walls mention fourteen or sixteen
parts of the body of Osiris buried at various sacred sites. This was sometimes
increased to forty-two parts, one for each district of Egypt.
The vigil of Isis and Nephthys as they watch over and lament the body of
Osiris is one of the keynote images of Egyptian culture. It is unusual in showing
Mythical Time Lines 79
deities experiencing strong emotion, even though this emotion is conveyed by
formalized gestures of mourning, such as beating the brow.
Isis already knows that she is destined to bear a child who will be king. In
order to bring this about, she has to revive the sexual powers of Osiris, just as
the Hand Goddess aroused the penis of the creator to create the first life. A relief
at Abydos shows the all-important moment when Isis in bird form uses her
wings to fan the breath of life into Osiris. Hymns celebrate the exaltation of Isis
when she knows that she has conceived the child who “is king even in the
egg.” Summoned by her cry of triumph, other deities acknowledge and bow
down to the unborn Horus.
At some point, the myth of the death of Osiris and the restoration of his
body by Isis was combined with the cult of Anubis as protector of the dead and
overseer of funerary rites. All aspects of an Egyptian funeral were given mythical
precedents in the mummification, entombment, and revivification of Osiris.
A number of myths, particularly in Papyrus Jumilhac, deal with attempts by
Seth and his followers to destroy or despoil the body of Osiris. The corpse is
successfully protected by the magic of Thoth and by the ferocity of Anubis in
his role as guardian of the tomb.
The Birth and Childhood of Horus. After a pregnancy of ten months, Isis
gives birth to a son called Horus. This god was often referred to as Horus, son of
Isis, to distinguish him from Horus the Elder, the sky god whom some traditions
made a brother of Osiris and Seth. These two gods had distinct mythologies
but were often treated as aspects of the same deity.
The place of Horus’s birth is said to be in the Delta, usually in the region of
Chemmis. To evade his enemies, the divine child was hidden inside a papyrus
thicket or on a floating island. This “nest of Horus” is one of the few mythical
places that is commonly shown in Egyptian art. Temple wall scenes depict
kings in the role of the Horus child in the marshes being washed or suckled by a
cow. This cow can be identified with a number of goddesses but most often
with Hathor, whose name literally means Mansion of Horus. She seems to have
been regarded as the mother of Horus the Elder and the wet nurse or foster
mother of Horus the Younger.37 Many other deities were imagined as protecting
the divine child whenever Isis was forced to be absent.
In literary spells these deities can be changed into the humble human inhabitants
of the marsh. The theme of the poisoning of the infant Horus was a common
one in magical texts (see “Horus the Child” and “Serqet” in “Deities, Themes,
and Concepts”). Several spells start with Isis lamenting because her child has been
poisoned. The source of the poison is usually the bite of an earth-dwelling snake.
80 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Since destroying your enemies by
sending a dangerous animal after
them was a standard Egyptian curse,
Seth should probably be regarded as
the instigator of the attack. In one
spell, Isis appeals to her mother,
Nut, and her father, Geb, the controller
of the earth snakes. In others
she challenges the creator sun god to
heal her innocent child. The creator
sends one of his manifestations or
attendant deities to drive the poison
out of Horus, to the great joy of Isis.
The Metternich Stela and
other magical stelae of this type
show Horus as a naked child triumphing
over all kinds of dangerous
creatures. Some of these creatures,
such as the oryx (a species of
desert-dwelling antelope), were particularly
associated with Seth. In a
few magical texts it is the foolishness
or greed of the young Horus
that is to blame for his plight. In
one spell, the young god suffers
from a terrible stomachache after
naughtily eating a sacred fish and
has to appeal to his mother for
help.38 Horus is still an impetuous
youth when he takes up the struggle
to avenge the death of his father
and gain the crown of Egypt.
The Struggles of Horus and Seth.
Some sources give Seth a reign of
hundreds of years; others imply an
interregnum, during which Seth
and Horus struggle to establish who
is fit to rule Egypt. Seth is consis-
tently portrayed as sexually abusing the young Horus. This may be implied in
the Pyramid Texts by the frequent references to the mutilation of the eye of
Horus and the testicles of Seth.39 The injury to Seth is sometimes interpreted as
castration and sometimes merely as losing the “seed” from his testicles.
In the Middle Kingdom Kahun Papyrus, Horus complains to Isis that Seth
has been admiring his buttocks and wants to sleep with him. Isis advises her
son to tell Seth that he dares not sleep with him unless Seth shares some of his
magical strength. When Seth has agreed to make Horus stronger, Horus must
pretend to let Seth have his way but take care to catch all Seth’s semen in his
fingers.
The Middle Kingdom text breaks off at this point, but a version of the story
is found in the New Kingdom Contendings of Horus and Seth. In this text,
Horus catches Seth’s semen in his hand and brings it to his mother. Isis cuts off
the polluted hand and throws it in the river (see “Sobek” in “Deities, Themes,
and Concepts”). After making Horus a new hand, she uses her own hand to give
Horus an erection and catches his semen in a pot. In this episode Isis is appropriately
playing the role of the Hand Goddess who combines with the penis of
the creator to make the first life.
Isis spreads the semen of Horus on the leaves of some lettuces in Seth’s garden.
When Seth eats the lettuces he becomes pregnant by Horus and gives birth
to a radiant disk through the top of his head. Thoth takes the disk and places it
on the brow of Horus as a sign that he is the true heir of the creator sun god.40
A cluster of myths deal with the mutilation of the eye or eyes of Horus (see
“Eyes of Horus” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). In Horus’s sky falcon
form, his eyes could be regarded as the sun and the moon or as the morning and
evening stars. References in the Pyramid Texts to the eye of Horus being made
small by the finger of Seth may relate to lunar phenomena (see “The Egyptian
Year” under “Cyclical Time” later in this chapter). Later texts, such as Book of
the Dead spell 17, imply that the eye was torn out and swallowed or broken
into pieces by Seth.
In some versions, both eyes of Horus are blinded or torn out. Although Seth
is the aggressor, he is sometimes said to be punishing Horus for mutilating or
raping his mother, Isis.41 In the Contendings of Horus and Seth, Horus becomes
angry with his mother for helping Seth and cuts off her head. One myth has
Thoth heal Isis by giving her a cow’s head to replace the head that Horus has
taken away.42 The Ennead decrees that Horus should be punished. Seth rips out
the eyes of Horus and buries them on a mountainside, where they grow into lotuses.
In this story, the eyes of Horus are restored by his foster mother, Hathor.
In other versions he is healed by Isis or Thoth. The latter is particularly associated
with finding the eye of Horus when it is lost or putting it back together
82 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
when it has been torn into many pieces. This myth mirrors the mutilation and
reunion of the body of Osiris.
Many references to the contests between the Two Fighters imply that
Horus and Seth were gods of equal strength. These probably reflect the tradition
that Horus and Seth were brothers. Other versions adapt to the concept of Seth
fighting with his younger and weaker nephew by making Horus win through
guile. In the Contendings of Horus and Seth, the two gods compete by turning
themselves into hippopotami and seeing who can stay under water longer. Later
Horus challenges Seth to a race in stone boats. Horus’s boat is only wood
painted to look like stone. Seth tries to make a real stone boat that sinks as
soon as it is launched.
The combat between the two gods was reenacted on temple lakes. By the
first millennium BCE, the duel had become a battle between opposing sides with
the Followers of Horus fighting the Followers of Seth. In the sacred play the
Triumph of Horus, Horus pursues Seth by boat and attacks him with harpoons.
The Triumph of Horus. The Two Fighters disturbed the whole cosmos with
their quarrel. The case needed to be brought before a Divine Tribunal so that
right could be established and a peace made. This Divine Tribunal is usually
headed by Geb, though the ultimate authority is the creator sun god. The
Tribunal is said to assemble in various places, but most often in Heliopolis.
Myths deal with two different trials. In what is probably the older tradition,
it is Osiris who is the plaintiff against Seth. Sometimes the body of Osiris is
said to be present in court supported by Isis and Nephthys. Seth tries to justify
his violence toward his brother but fails. Osiris is vindicated as “one true of
voice,” a term that came to be applied to all the virtuous dead. Only then, some
sources imply, could Osiris complete his metamorphosis into the ruler of the
underworld. Osiris is not resurrected in the sense of returning to life as an individual
on earth. He enters into a new kind of existence in a separate realm that
most beings can only reach by dying.
In some accounts Seth is punished by being forced to carry the body of
Osiris to its final resting place. While performing this humiliating task, Seth
can be envisaged as a boat, a carrying chair, a bull, or an ox. Even after Osiris
became ruler of the dead, his corpse was preserved in a tomb, where it remained
a source of great power.
In a parallel tradition, the disputants are Horus and Seth. Various deities
put the case for each side. Osiris is sometimes represented as sending messages
from the underworld to support his son’s case. Osiris ominously reminds the
other gods that only he can create the crops that feed them. Seth’s claim rests
chiefly on his being the strongest of the gods, whereas Horus stresses the legiti-
Mythical Time Lines 83
macy of his place in the royal succession. This argument between might and
right must have seemed topical at many crisis points in Egyptian history.
It would be natural to assume that this crucial myth would always have the
same ending, but many variations on the divine verdict are recorded. These
variations are due to the fluctuating status of Seth as a national god and to the
different contexts in which the myth might be used. The strength of Seth was
needed to defend the gods from their enemies, so it was necessary to reintegrate
the loser into the community of the gods.
In order to reconcile the Two Fighters and turn them into the Two Lords,
the Divine Tribunal divided the land between Horus and Seth. Horus got Lower
Egypt and Seth Upper Egypt, or Horus the Black Land of the Nile valley and
Seth the Red Land of the deserts. The image of Horus and Seth uniting the Two
Lands to support the ruling king was a popular one in royal art up to the end of
the New Kingdom (see Figure 46).
In the Memphite Theology and other texts, however, this division of the
kingdom is subsequently challenged, and Horus is given all of Egypt. The tale of
the Contendings of Horus and Seth, written down at a time when the cult of
Seth was particularly popular, has Seth summoned to live with Ra in the sky as
god of storms. This fits with Seth’s traditional role as a powerful protector of Ra
in his sun boat.
In versions of the myth that occur in hymns or rituals concerning Osiris,
Seth is driven out of Egypt rather than being compensated with any kind of divine
realm. He may even be given over to Horus and Isis to be punished or executed.
This is his fate in most temple texts of the first millennium BCE. At Edfu,
the triumph of Horus over Seth was celebrated with the cutting up of a hippopotamus—
the final act in the sequence of mutilations that began with the
dismemberment of Osiris (see Figure 32).
Hymns and literary accounts of the Horus and Seth conflict usually end
with a chorus of praise for the newly crowned Horus. Royal rituals and funerary
texts that are structured by episodes from the Osiris myth have a different focus.
Before or during his own coronation, Horus is represented as carrying out a
series of rituals for his father, Osiris, including the Opening of the Mouth and
the raising of a symbolic pillar (see “Djed Pillar” in “Deities, Themes, and
Concepts”). These acts correspond with stages in the royal funerary ritual performed
by the heir of the deceased king to ensure that king’s survival in the afterlife.
These rites validated the royal succession by confirming Osiris in his
new role as king of the dead and Horus in his role as king of the living.
In these contexts, Osiris is represented as too weak or passive to achieve
the transformation to ruler of the underworld without his heir’s help. Here he
seems to embody the vulnerability of the Egyptian state in dangerous transi-
84 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
tional periods. Other sources, such as hymns to Osiris, portray the god as having
been created by Atum to be a powerful and terrifying force, the underworld
equivalent of the sun god.43 The “inertness” of Osiris is then comparable to
that of the creator before the First Time.
The “time of Horus” was made the prototype for the reign of every king.
Hymns refer to it as a time of peace and prosperity when evil and crime were
unknown. In most Egyptian king lists, the reign of Horus is followed by periods
of rule by other deities, such as Thoth and Maat. Then come nine akhu (spirits),
associated with Hierakonpolis, Buto, and Heliopolis; towns that are known to
have been important in the early history of Egypt. With these kings, and with a
series of kings of lesser status known as the Followers of Horus, myth blends
imperceptibly into history.
Period of Rule by Kings
Summary: Dynasties of gods and demigods were succeeded by dynasties of human
kings who acted as intermediaries between humanity and the gods. This
period corresponds with the time span of Pharaonic history. Gods and goddesses
mainly communicated with people through temple rituals, oracles, or dreams,
though deities might still be encountered beyond the boundaries of the Black
Land. Most humans could only enter the divine realm by dying, but stories
were told of priest-magicians who had the power to pass between the worlds of
the living and the dead.
The king was responsible for upholding the divine order in the world of the
living. Failure to obey the laws of maat could lead to periods of chaos. These
only ended when a new royal champion of maat arose. The gods might intervene
in history by fathering such hero-kings.
Once the gods had withdrawn, humanity had to play an active role, through
ritual and ethical behavior, in keeping any kind of divine presence on earth.
Regular offerings and elaborate rites ensured that deities were present in statues
or sacred animals kept in temples, but their true forms were thought to be in
the divine realm.
On temple walls, kings are shown perpetually interacting with the gods,
but specific communications from a deity to an individual king are usually described
as coming in the form of a dream or a portent. The best known example
is King Thutmose IV’s dream encounter with the deity manifest in the Great
Sphinx at Giza (see “Sphinx” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). Similar
dreams were occasionally recorded by private individuals of the elite class. It
was probably the ba of a person that was thought to be able to enter the divine
Mythical Time Lines 85
realm in sleep and converse with gods and spirits. Ordinary Egyptians did not
expect to meet their deities until after they had died.
Strange Encounters. Encounters between people and deities are described in
stories that use mythological themes, but these usually take place beyond the
Nile valley. In the story of the Two Brothers, it is only after the hero, Bata,
leaves Egypt for the remote Valley of the Pine that he meets the Ennead. In the
tale known as the Shipwrecked Sailor, an Egyptian survives a shipwreck in the
Red Sea and is washed ashore on a paradise island. When he makes an offering
to the gods to thank them for the food he finds on the island, a giant humanheaded
serpent appears.
The sailor is terrified, but the serpent promises that no harm will come to
him and that he will be reunited with his family. The serpent reveals that there
were once seventy-five snakes on the island, suggesting that he may be the creator
sun god who traditionally had seventy-five forms. The serpent eventually
sends the sailor back to Egypt laden with treasure but warns him that he will
never find the “island of the spirit” again.
The hero of this tale does not behave heroically in the sense of being particularly
strong, brave, or selfless. All the sailor does is show the proper attitude
for humans by giving thanks to the gods even in adversity and by believing the
serpent’s message of hope. In most Egyptian tales, intelligence and natural eloquence
or book learning are more admired than feats of arms or willingness to
die with honor. The main characters are often priest-magicians (see “Imhotep”
and “Magicians” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”) who deal with threats
from ghosts, demons, and foreign sorcerers by using spells, amulets, and rituals.
The ability to communicate with supernatural beings is the basis of their
power. Some stories feature magicians who are able to see the true forms of the
gods or enter the Duat while still alive, but Egyptian literature is full of warnings
about the misuse of such powers by the magicians or their royal patrons.
Magical tales were often set in the time of famous kings, such as Djoser (c.
2667–2648 BCE) or Rameses II (1279–1213 BCE), whose reigns were sufficiently
far in the past to be imagined as an age of marvels. Nearly all Egyptian tales feature
some royal characters, who are not always shown in a favorable light. In
literature, kings and princes may be fallible or even cruel and lustful. In most
royal inscriptions, by contrast, kings are presented as heroes on a cosmic stage.
Kings and Gods. Each king fulfilled the creator’s plan and the judgment of the
Divine Tribunal: that Horus, son of Osiris, should always rule. Ideally, every
new king (Horus) had to succeed his father (Osiris), even if history had to be
86 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
reedited to accomplish this so that intervening reigns or lack of blood relationships
were ignored.
Many kings claimed that they, like Horus, had been chosen to rule “while
still in the egg.” In practice, it was the inauguration rituals that turned the chosen
heir into “the living Horus.” Since the office of kingship was so vital to the
stability of Egyptian society, interruptions in the royal succession had to be explained
as direct interventions by deities. The accession of individual kings
might be validated by giving them a divine parent. One such royal birth myth is
found in the inauguration inscriptions of King Horemheb (c. 1319–1307 BCE).44
Horemheb was a soldier who served under Akhenaten and Tutankhamun,
but the inscription presents his career in mythological terms. He is called the
son of Horus, Lord of Hnes: the form of the Horus worshipped in Horemheb’s
native town. Horemheb claims that his exceptional qualities were evident as
soon as he was born and that Horus of Hnes always intended that he should be
king. To bring this about, Horus takes Horemheb to Thebes and presents him to
the god Amun-Ra at Karnak and Luxor temples. Horemheb is accepted by
Amun-Ra and by his daughter, the Eye goddess, and acclaimed by a gathering of
all the gods. Horemheb is then able to restore the country and its institutions to
the way things were “in the time of Ra.”
This inscription can be interpreted as a factual account of Horemheb’s inauguration
at Thebes during the Opet Festival in the presence of statues of the
gods, but it elevates these events to the divine realm. A historical event of the
fourteenth century BCE becomes part of the repeating cycle of the acceptance of
the rightful heir by the Divine Tribunal and his restoration of harmony to
Egypt.
In the Egyptian worldview, each reign was supposed to be a successful battle
by the leader of the forces of order (the king or a prince representing him)
against the forces of chaos (rebels, foreigners, and dangerous creatures or natural
forces). Such victories were routinely attributed to the reigning king whether or
not they had actually taken place, so that much Egyptian history is mythical in
the modern sense of not being factually true.
Rameses II, for example, presented himself as a hero-king even though his
greatest achievement was probably the peace treaty he negotiated with the rival
Hittite empire. Scenes of his famous battle against the Hittites at Qadesh decorate
the walls of many of the temples that he built. Conforming to the mythical
prototype of the champion of order, Rameses is shown as a gigantic figure triumphing
over chaotic crowds of enemies. A poem that accompanies the reliefs
stresses the vulnerability of the king, however, and claims that disaster was
only averted through the intervention of the god Amun. 45
Royal, religious, and literary texts all admit the possibility that if humans
fail to obey the laws of maat, chaos can get the upper hand. Specific acts, such
as desecrating the tombs of the dead or failing to build proper homes for the
gods, are sometimes blamed for these periods of national disaster. At such
times, the gods withdraw even further from humanity, and “their sanctuaries
are empty.”
Some texts, such as the Middle Kingdom Words of Neferti or the Roman
Period Potter’s Oracle, project graphic descriptions of “a land in calamity” into
the future. The prophecy of Neferti describes a period of turmoil and misery but
ends with a vision of “a king from the south” who will overcome rebels and foreign
enemies so that “Truth will return to its proper place, with Chaos driven
outside.”46 This future was the recent past for the author of the prophecy, as the
“king from the south” was Amenemhet I, a commoner who founded the
Twelfth Dynasty.
This alternation between order and chaos was seen as the pattern of human
history, but a few writings allowed the possibility that one day the slide into
chaos would not be stopped by a royal hero, humanity would be totally destroyed,
and the world would end.
88 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 17. King Rameses II smites the enemies of Egypt and the divine order while Amun-Ra looks
on. Relief in Karnak temple. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
Return to Chaos
Summary: The end of the world will come about because of quarrels among
deities or rebellions by humanity. The creator will become weary, and the world
will return into the dark primeval waters from which it came.
In Book of the Dead spell 175, Atum complains to Thoth about “the children
of Nut,” a term that can refer to the fourth generation of the Great Ennead
or to the gods in general. The children of Nut are accused of making rebellion,
war, and carnage and of dividing up the wholeness of creation. Thoth, who was
in charge of fixing the length of all creatures’ lives, decrees that their years will
be cut short.
In the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, the serpent deities are suddenly destroyed
by fire. Only the great serpent (the creator) and his little daughter (the Eye
goddess/Maat) survive the holocaust. The serpent god warns the sailor that when
he leaves, the “island of the spirit” will sink beneath the sea. This evokes an image
of the Primeval Mound, the place of creation, being covered by the nun again.
In Coffin Texts spell 1130, after the creator has described the gifts he has
given to humanity, he goes on to say that after millions of years he will become
one with Osiris. When this happens, there will no longer be a division between
life and death, and everything on earth will go through a period of catastrophic
change. In Book of the Dead spell 175, Atum declares that after millions of
years he will destroy everything that he has made “and the land will return into
the Deep, into the Flood, as it was before (creation).” A spell in the Harris
Magical Papyrus has the magician claim that he can, like the creator, cause the
earth to go down into the primeval waters and the south to become north.
This strain of thought seems to be reflected in the Roman Period Hermetic
text known as the Asclepius. In this dialogue, Hermes Trismegistus warns that
in the “old age of the world” the gods will go back to heaven, Egypt will be deserted,
and “all the people will die.”47 References to an absolutely final destruction
are rare in Egyptian or Egyptian-based texts. Even the Asclepius promises
that the supreme god will remake the world. The eschatology of Egypt is most
truly represented by the cycles of destruction and renewal expounded in the
New Kingdom Underworld Books. Many of the events from this linear time line
recur in cyclical time.
CYCLICAL TIME
The Egyptian universe remained eternally the same only through constant
change in the form of cycles of decay, death, and rebirth. The Ouroboros, a snake
Mythical Time Lines 89
swallowing its own tail,
was an Egyptian image
adopted by many other
cultures as a symbol of
eternity. It signified the
capacity of the universe to
perpetually renew itself,
so that every end could
also be a beginning.
The Egyptian Year
The great events of Egyptian
myth could be treated
either as things that happened
once in the remote
past or as things that
needed to happen over and
over again. The inauguration
of a king, which ideally
took place at New
Year, reenacted the creation of the world and the reign of the sun god as well as
the establishment of “the living Horus” on the throne of his father.48 Each year of
a king’s reign was seen as mirroring the great cycle of the creation, decay, and renewal
of the cosmos. An annual renewal of kingship ceremony at Thebes seems
to have involved a reenactment of a vital stage in the process of creation: the
union between the creator and the Hand goddess.49 After thirty years, the length
of a generation, the king had to undergo a much more elaborate renewal process
to identify himself once again with the life-giving youthful forms of the creator
and the sun god.50
The last month of the year was feared as a time when the gods seemed to
be punishing humanity as they had after the rebellion against the sun god (see
“Sekhmet” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). The new year began with the
coming of the inundation. By the Ptolemaic Period, the first Nile flood was said
to have been caused by the return of the Distant Goddess from Nubia. Every
year, the fearsome goddess had to be persuaded to return home and take on a
benevolent form as she reached the southern border of Egypt. Kiosk-shrines
built on the water’s edge were decorated with comical figures of dwarfs or ani-
mals dancing and playing musical instruments to pacify the goddess and welcome
the inundation (see Figure 14).
Alternatively, the Nile flood could be seen as the tears that Isis wept every
year for her murdered husband or as the efflux from the decaying body of Osiris
(see “Osiris” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). During the flood season,
Egypt resembled the nun again. When the floods began to recede, the land appeared
to rise up like the Primeval Mound, and the fields could be planted. The
growth cycle of food crops (particularly wheat and barley) was linked to the
myth of Osiris. The scything down of the grain and its trampling and winnowing
were equated with the murder and dismemberment of the “good god.” The
sprouting of the seed that began the next agricultural cycle was celebrated as a
resurrection for Osiris. There were annual festivals in which corn mummies—
miniature figures of Osiris filled with mud and seeds—were planted in sacred
areas and watered till they sprouted.51 These ceremonies were not just a remembrance
of long-ago events; the death and renewal of Osiris were seen as
archetypal acts that maintained the cosmos.
The mutilation and dismemberment of Osiris could also be linked to the
lunar calendar (see under “Moon” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). The
full moon could represent both the complete body of Osiris and the complete
eye of his son, Horus. Each month as the moon waned, the body of Osiris and
the Eye of Horus were divided. Evil seemed to triumph, until the waxing of the
moon “completed” these two symbols of beneficent power again. Periodic
eclipses of the moon were explained by myths such as that of Seth taking the
form of a black boar to swallow the eye of Horus and being forced to expel it
again. Regular astronomical events such as the appearance of the morning star
or the heliacal rising of Sirius also feature in Egyptian myth (see “Stars and
Planets” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts”), but by far the most significant
heavenly phenomenon was the daily rising and setting of the sun.
The Solar Cycle
The apparent movement of the sun across the sky was seen both as a life cycle
and as a journey. The daily life cycle of the sun was more an extended metaphor
than a narrative. The sun was said to be born each morning from the womb of
the sky goddess, Nut. At dawn the sun was a child—a daily repetition of the
emergence of the sun child during the First Time. At noon, the sun reached the
peak of his strength and could be portrayed as a triumphant falcon. By evening
he was an old man, virtually the only god to be shown as old. The common
identification of the evening sun as Atum linked it with the myth of the creator
growing weary and letting the world sink back into the nun. Sunset was equivalent
to death, and the sun’s flesh and soul passed into the underworld. After
moving through the underworld reviving its inhabitants with his light, the sun
would be reborn. Each sunrise was a new beginning for the cosmos.
In early times, this cycle could be described in more brutal terms.52 In the
evening, the sun god died by being eaten by his mother, the sky goddess, and
was replaced by a multitude of stars. In the morning, the reborn sun god ate all
the star gods, staining the sky with their blood (the redness of dawn) and absorbing
their power. The one god became many and the many gods became one,
so life came out of death.
Other sources envisaged the sun god in an eternal voyage across the skies
above and below the earth. At sunset, the Day Boat of the sun left the upper sky
to be replaced by the barques for the moon and the stars (see “Boats” in
“Deities, Themes, and Concepts”). The Night Boat carrying the sun god was
towed on water and over sand through the twelve regions of the underworld.
Just as the creator had to overcome darkness and chaos to create the world, the
sun and his defenders had to subdue the monsters that embodied darkness and
chaos. Just as the creator made deities and people in the First Time and gave
them life, the Night Sun gave new life to all the beings in the Duat. In the
fourth hour of the night, the sleeping dead were revived by the sun god and experienced
a lifetime in his presence. Thus the reign of the sun god, the lost
golden age of Egyptian myth, was reenacted every night. The fate of the human
dead was locked into the solar cycle.
The Journey of the Soul
Egyptian concepts of the afterlife are strikingly diverse.53 The Beautiful West
could be seen as a place of joyful reunions or as a state of terrifying isolation.
Death was regarded both as a unique event and as part of the continuous process
of decay and renewal. There was no promise of eternal peace for the
Egyptian dead. The afterlife was full of dangers and difficulties to be overcome,
a belief that probably reflected the experience of life of the average Ancient
Egyptian.
After death each individual faced a journey through the underworld to
reach the presence of one of the gods who could grant eternal life. The deceased
would find themselves in an eerie landscape of rivers, deserts, and lakes of fire,
inhabited by demons and monsters. The adventures of the soul in this landscape
are similar to the fairy tales of other cultures, but the prize to be won was
not a precious object or the hand of a princess, but eternal life. Some deities
were helpful to the dead, but others were hostile unless approached in the right
way. The soul of the deceased had to act like a magician and overcome threats
by knowing protective spells and the true names of the beings he or she would
encounter.
Armed with these powers, the soul would eventually reach a divine domain.
The last ordeal might be the judgment of the heart in the presence of
Osiris and the assessors of the underworld. The goal of the journey was to be
transformed into an akh, an “effective” or “transfigured” spirit. Those who
failed to justify their existence in the divine court faced a second death in the
jaws of the Eater of Souls. The fortunate spirits could take their place among
the stars or among the followers of Osiris, Ra, Thoth, or Hathor, but they could
not escape the cycles of destruction and renewal.
The soul might experience life in the Field of Reeds, a paradise similar to
Egypt, but this was not a permanent state. When the night sun passed on, darkness
and death returned. The star-spirits were destroyed at dawn and reborn
Mythical Time Lines 93
each night. Even the evil dead, the Enemies of Ra, continuously came back to
life like Apophis so that they could be tortured and killed again.
As the Western Souls, the justified dead formed part of the crew of the embattled
Boat of Millions. They might be thought of as rowing or towing the sun
boat or even defending it against the forces of chaos. The vignette to Book of the
Dead spell 39 shows a dead person taking on Seth’s role of spearing the Apophis
serpent. In death, everyone could be a cosmic hero in the perpetual struggle that
was the central feature of Egyptian myth.
NOTES
1. The translation is by James P. Allen from his Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of
Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, 2d ed., Yale Egyptological Studies 2 (San Antonio,
TX, 1995). For other important surveys of Egyptian creation myths, see S. Bickel, La
cosmogonie égyptienne avant le Nouvel Empire, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 134
(Freiburg and Göttingen, 1994); and M. Bilolo, Les Cosmo-Théologies Philosophiques
D’Heliopolis et Hermopolis, The Thought of Ancient Egypt and Nubia, vol. 2 (Kinshasa
and Munich, 1986).
2. Unattributed quotations are the author’s translations from Egyptian texts listed in
“Appendix: Primary Sources.”
3. Such a temporal framework is seen, for instance, in the account of the creation of the
world in seven days described in the book of Genesis. For ancient creation myths in
general, see the chapter “Chaos and Cosmogony” in M. R. Wright, Cosmology in
Antiquity (London and New York, 1995).
4. This is one of the reasons why Ptah precedes Ra in some lists of gods who ruled the
world. Although the imagery of the Primeval Mound is drawn from the inundation, the
land is said to rise rather than the waters to fall. The rising of the mound was also seen
in sexual terms as the life-bringing erection of the earth god.
5. The parts of Egyptian temples decorated with marsh foliage may represent this stage
of the nun when chaos had been subdued by the creator to realize its potential. The
mounds, which were places of life, had their evil counterparts in the shifting sandbanks,
which were a danger to anyone traveling by water.
6. The question of whether this means that Egyptian religion developed into a form of
monotheism is explored in Siegfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion (London and Ithaca,
1973); and in Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the
Many, trans. John Baines (Ithaca, 1982) (see “Egyptian Myth: Annotated Print and
Nonprint Resources”).
7. The main purpose of this ritual was to allow the ka (vital force) of the being depicted
to enter and “inhabit” the statue. When performed on mummies, the ritual was thought
to restore the senses of the deceased, so that they could breathe, speak, eat, hear, see, and
smell again in the afterlife.
94 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
8. For the creator as an androgynous deity, see J. Zandee, “The Birth-Giving Creator-God
in Ancient Egypt,” in Studies in Pharaonic Religion and Society in Honour of J. Gwyn
Griffiths, ed. A. B. Lloyd (London, 1992), 169–185; and K. Mysliwiec, “La mère, la
femme, la fille et la variante feminine du dieu Atoum,” Etudes et Travaux 13 (1983):
297–304.
9. Two different terms for spitting that sound like the names Shu and Tefnut are used in
this text. The Egyptians were fond of etymological explanations for the nature of deities.
These explanations are often false in linguistic terms, but they can provide information
on religious ideas.
10. Writers on Egyptian myth refer to the Eye of Ra as the Eye Goddess or as the solar
eye (the sun disk) in distinction to the lunar eye (the moon disk).
11. For this interpretation, see chapter IIIC in Allen, Genesis in Egypt.
12. In representations of solar deities, this cobra is shown in front of or coiled round the
sun disk. The uraeus cobra formed part of many Egyptian royal headdresses.
13. Confusingly, in spite of the story of the Sole Eye searching for Shu and Tefnut, the
Eye is quite often identified as Tefnut. The role of a deity is often defined by the pair or
group of which he or she forms a part. When Tefnut is paired with Maat, they usually
play the contrasting roles of the fierce and gentle daughters of the creator.
14. For a comprehensive discussion of the place of maat in Egyptian culture, see the
chapter “The Concept of Maat” in Erik Hornung, Idea into Image: Essays on Ancient
Egyptian Thought, trans. Elizabeth Bredeck (Princeton, 1992); or J. Assmann, Ma’at:
Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im alten Ägypten, (Munich, 1990).
15. The translation is that of Allen, Genesis in Egypt, 25–26. For other translations of the
Egyptian terms neheh and djet, see ‘Time and Eternity’ in Hornung, Idea into Image.
These two forms of time are occasionally shown as deities supporting the sky.
16. The hymn, from Papyrus Cairo 58032, is translated in John L. Foster, Hymns,
Prayers, and Songs: An Anthology of Ancient Egyptian Lyric Poetry, ed. Susan Tower
Hollis (Atlanta, GA, 1995), IV.32.
17. Richard B. Parkinson’s translation of a passage from “The Teaching for King
Merikare,” in Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems,
1940–1640 BC (Oxford, 1997), 226.
18. It has been suggested that the negative attitude toward women displayed in this story
was part of an adverse reaction to the reigns of several powerful queens. See L. H. Lesko,
“Three Late Egyptian Stories Reconsidered” in Egyptological Studies in Honor of
Richard A. Parker (Hanover, NH, 1986), 98–103.
19. The language used in this text suggests that it may have been based on a Middle
Kingdom original. The words of the spell were to be declaimed over images of deities
drawn on the patient’s skin or on a piece of linen applied to the patient’s throat. A
healing herb to be drunk in wine or beer is also mentioned. The whole spell is said to
have proved effective against poison on countless occasions.
Mythical Time Lines 95
20. The name itself would have been the type of “secret knowledge” that was only
passed on to the initiated. Some of the Pyramid Texts, which were for the eyes of the
king, do claim to give the true name of the creator. New Kingdom hymns threaten that
any unauthorized person who speaks the true name of god will die instantly.
21. Thoth may not originally have been linked to this myth, but the Egyptian sense of
symmetry demanded that as Thoth restored the lost and wounded lunar eye of Horus, he
should also bring back the solar eye of Ra. The various stages in the development of the
myth cycle of the solar eye were first studied by H. Junker in Der Auszug der Hathor-
Tefnut aus Nubien (Berlin, 1911); and by W. Spiegelberg in Der Ägyptische Mythus vom
Sonnenauge (Strasbourg, 1918).
22. For a full translation, see Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3: The
Late Period (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London,1980), 156–159.
23. This section of the myth is probably based on a list of names, epithets, and festivals
of goddesses. By the Greco-Roman Period, and probably earlier, the myth of the Distant
Goddess was linked with the winter solstice and the annual return of the inundation
from the far south. The flood took some weeks to spread northward, so the priests of
each major temple would greet it in turn. For the wild celebrations that marked the
return of the wandering goddess, see J. C. Darnell, “Hathor Returns to Medamud,”
Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 22 (1995): 47–94.
24. These references are chiefly in the texts known as the Teaching for King Merikare
and the Words of Neferti; see Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe, 138, 226. In another work
of this period, the Dialogue of Ipuur, the protagonist expresses the opinion that it would
have been better if the sun god had realized the true nature of humanity “in the first
generation” and struck them all down. See Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe, 185, 197.
25. The best translation of and commentary on this text are to be found in Erik Hornung,
Der ägyptische Mythos von der Himmelskuh, 2d ed., Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 46
(Freiburg and Göttingen, 1997). For a recent discussion, see A. Spalinger, “The
Destruction of Mankind: A Transitional Literary Text,” Studien zur Altägyptischen
Kultur 28 (2000): 257–282.
26. These cosmic beings are treated here as courtiers attending the king of the gods. It is
a characteristic of Egyptian deities that they can manifest themselves in different forms
and different locations at the same time.
27. “(Female) Powerful One” is the meaning of the name of the lion goddess Sekhmet.
Egyptian myths are full of wordplay of this kind.
28. This would be a depth of about 9 inches / 22.5 centimeters. The mineral used to dye
the beer was probably either ocher or hematite.
29. One of Hathor’s epithets was Lady of Drunkenness. A calendar for the temple of Mut
at Karnak records the serving of special red beer at a festival celebrating the pacification
of the solar eye. See A. Spalinger, “A Religious Calendar Year,” Revue d’Egyptologie 44
(1993): 161–184.
30. Manetho, Aegyptiaca, trans. and ed. W. G. Wadell (London, 1940).
96 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
31. See “Appendix: Primary Sources” under “Ismailia naos.” Some Egyptologists believe
that this unusual text was influenced by the Greek myth of Zeus’s overthrow of
Chronos. This may be so, but the fact that the story was inscribed on a shrine in the
holiest part of a temple shows that the designers of the temple considered it important
and meaningful.
32. According to Papyrus Salt 825, Osiris was slain by Geb and then brought back to life.
33. E. Otto, for example, wrote that Osiris “is from the beginning a dead god to whom
poetic thought later attributes a past life.” See Egyptian Art and the Cults of Osiris and
Amon, trans. K. Bosse-Griffiths (London, 1968), 28.
34. “He who was put in the chest” is a traditional epithet of Osiris, but it refers to being
encoffined after mummification. Plutarch’s story may be an imaginative attempt to
explain the coffins in the form of the body of Osiris that were popular at many periods.
35. Cedar of Lebanon was the favored wood for royal and elite coffins and for the barqueshrines
used to carry statues of deities.
36. The only partial parallel to this incident in an Egyptian text is an episode in the tale
of the Two Brothers in which Bata cuts off his own penis after being accused of adultery
by his brother. He throws it in the river where it is eaten by a catfish. Bata’s name links
him with Seth, however, rather than with Osiris. It may be that a myth about Osiris’s
losing his penis was created to balance the ancient myth about Seth losing his testicles.
37. This is a role that could be of great significance in Egyptian culture, particularly
among royalty, who were often raised by foster mothers. Many writers have noted
parallels between the myth of Horus in Chemmis and the story of Moses being hidden in
a floating basket among the rushes and then given to his own mother to wet nurse.
38. The sacred fish was probably the one that helped to guide the sun barque through the
rivers of the underworld. For a translation of this spell, see Number 49 in J. F. Borghouts,
Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (Leiden, 1978).
39. H. te Velde argues in Seth, God of Confusion (Leiden, 1977) that the Eye of Horus
was damaged because of sexual activity between Horus and Seth but that through the
intervention of other deities, even this unorthodox union resulted in new life.
40. In this story the disk seems to be the solar disk, but in other versions it is a lunar
aspect of Thoth, who is born from the “union” of Horus and Seth.
41. A spell from the Harris Magical Papyrus (BM 10042) refers to Isis weeping on the
riverbank after Horus has had sex with her. This myth may have arisen through the
common identification of Horus with the fertility god Min, “the bull of his mother.”
(See “Min” in “Deities, Themes, and Concepts.”)
42. The myth is in the New Kingdom Papyrus Sallier IX. This seems to be the earliest
example of a myth devised to explain the animal-headed divine forms common in
Egyptian art. Plutarch angrily dismisses the story that Horus beheaded his mother as a
ridiculous lie.
43. See the hymns to Osiris translated by M. Lichtheim in Maat in Egyptian
Autobiographies and Related Studies, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 120 (Freiburg and
Göttingen, 1992).
Mythical Time Lines 97
44. For a recent translation of these inscriptions, see William J. Murnane, Texts from the
Amarna Period in Egypt (Atlanta, GA, 1995), 230–233.
45. See B. G. Ockinga, “On the Interpretation of the Kadesh Record,” Chronique
d’Egypte 62 (1987), 38–48; or C. Broadhurst, “Religious Considerations at Qadesh, and
the Consequences for the Artistic Depiction of the Battle,” in Lloyd , Studies in
Pharaonic Religion, 77–81. Both sides suffered heavy losses at Qadesh.
46. The translation is by Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe, 139.
47. The translation of the text is by Brian P. Copenhaver in Hermetica (Cambridge,
1992), 81–82.
48. See D. O’Connor, “The Dendereh Chapel of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep: A New
Perspective,” in Studies on Ancient Egypt in Honour of H. S. Smith, ed. A. Leahy and W.
J. Tait (London, 1999), 215–220.
49. See L. Bell, “Luxor Temple and the Cult of the Royal Ka,” Journal of Near Eastern
Studies 44 (1985): 251–294.
50. For this interpretation of the Sed Festival, see Hornung, Idea into Image, 53–54.
51. Or the corn mummies were left in a desert wadi until a flash flood brought the seeds
to life. The best account of these objects is M. J. Raven’s “Corn-mummies” in
Oudheidkundige Mededlingen het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden 63 (1980):
7–38. For the Osiris myth as part of the agricultural cycle, see Henri Frankfort, Kingship
and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society
and Nature (Chicago, 1948),181–197.
52. This myth has been reconstructed by Katja Goebs in her forthcoming study, Crowns
in Egyptian Funerary Literature—Symbols of Royalty, Rebirth and Destruction.
53. For a survey of the full range of beliefs, see John H. Taylor, Death and the Afterlife in
Ancient Egypt (London, 2001).

3
DEITIES, THEMES, AND CONCEPTS
DEITIES, NAMES, AND DATES
A complete list of the deities named in Ancient Egyptian texts would need several
hundred entries. This selection concentrates on the gods and goddesses
who are prominent in myth.
The forms of divine names given in this book are those that have been
most commonly used by Egyptologists. Some are the Greek versions of the original
Egyptian names. Many of these, such as Osiris (for Wsjr) or Thoth (for
Djhwtj), are too well known to change. Alternative spellings of divine names
that may be found in other books are given in brackets. These alternatives are
due to the fact that the exact vowel sounds were not usually indicated in
Egyptian scripts.
For the dates of the various periods mentioned in the entries (for example,
Old Kingdom) see the Chronology on page ix.
PRIMARY SOURCES
Each entry is followed by a selection of primary sources cited in abbreviated
form. An alphabetical list of these abbreviations is given in “Appendix: Primary
Sources.”
AKER
Aker was an earth god who guarded the eastern and western horizons. He took the
form of a pair of conjoined sphinxes facing away from each other (see Figure 45).
See also Sphinx
AKHET
The horizon, a place of transition for gods and the dead, was known as Akhet.
The Double Horizon consisted of the Western Horizon where the sun god died at
sunset and the Eastern Horizon where he was reborn at sunrise. The standard
image of the horizon was a sun
disk between two mountain
peaks. Two shining trees grew
on these mountains, and the
Double Horizon was guarded by
a double sphinx or twin lions.
See under Feline Deities; Ra;
Shu and Tefnut
AMMUT
Ammut was a monstrous goddess
who devoured the hearts of
the evil dead.
See also Hippopotamus
Goddesses
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AMUN
(AMON, AMMON, AMEN)
Amun was the mysterious creator
god whose name meant
Hidden One. He was most commonly
shown as a bearded man
in the prime of life wearing a
headdress surmounted by a double
plume. His origins are obscure,
but Amun and his female
counterpart Amunet (Amaunet)
were listed among the divine
protectors of the king in the Pyramid Texts. Amun and Amunet were part of the
group of eight primeval deities who came to be known as the Ogdoad of
Hermopolis. During the Middle Kingdom, Amun gradually became the chief god
of the Theban area, where he acquired a new consort, Mut, and a son, Khonsu. In
the New Kingdom, the cult of Amun was combined with that of the creator sun
god Ra. Amun-Ra was worshipped as the King of the Gods and creator of the
world and its inhabitants.
In his chief cult temple at Karnak in Thebes, Amun, Lord of the Thrones of
the Two Lands, ruled as a divine pharaoh. Unlike other important deities,
Amun does not seem to have been thought of as living in some distant celestial
realm. His presence was everywhere, unseen but felt like the wind. His oracles
communicated the divine will to humanity. Amun was said to come swiftly to
help Egyptian kings on the battlefield or to aid the poor and friendless. When he
was manifest in his cult statues, Amun periodically visited the necropolis of
Thebes to unite with its goddess, Hathor, and bring new life to the dead.
Amun tended to be the subject of speculative theology rather than mythical
narratives, but he did play a role in the creation myths of Hermopolis. One of
his incarnations was as the Great Shrieker, a primeval goose whose victory
shout was the first sound. In some accounts this primeval goose laid the “world
egg;” in others, Amun fertilized or created this egg in his ram-headed serpent
form known as Kematef (“He who has completed his moment”). The temple of
Medinet Habu in western Thebes was sometimes identified as the location of
this primal event. A cult statue of the Amun of Karnak regularly visited this
temple to renew the process of creation.
By the end of the New Kingdom, Amun was often depicted as a virile ram
with curved horns or as a ram-headed sphinx. It was in these forms that he was
primarily worshipped in Nubia and Libya. As early as the Middle Kingdom,
Amun had been linked with the god Min to become the embodiment of male
sexual power. Amun-Min, the “bull of his mother,” was an ithyphallic selfgenerating
god. Amun-Ra was the mysterious originator of all life, the “one
who made himself into millions.” In the temples of Thebes he was given a partner
in the form of a royal priestess known as the “god’s wife” or “god’s hand.”
One of her duties seems to have been to physically arouse the god so that he
would continue the ongoing work of creation by generating life.
Like the ram-god Banebdjedet, Amun was said to mystically unite with the
queen of Egypt to sire the heir to the throne. This royal-birth myth was depicted
in several Theban temples (see Figure 20). The idea persisted as late as
the Greco-Roman Period, when legends were told about how the worldconquering
Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, was sired by Amun.
Alexander seems to have been acknowledged as the god’s son when he made a
pilgrimage to the remote temple of Amun at Siwa Oasis. According to some
Classical writers, Alexander and his companions were in danger of dying in the
desert when two serpents appeared to lead them safely to Siwa. The oracle of
Amun at Siwa was believed to be infallible. The Greeks wove it into their own
mythology, claiming that the heroes Perseus and Heracles had consulted
Amun/Zeus there.
See also Aten; Atum; Birds; Boats; Khepri; Min; Mut; Ogdoad of Hermopolis; Ra
References and further reading:
J. Assmann. Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun, and the Crisis
of Polytheism. Translated by Anthony Alcock. London and New York: 1995.
G. Hart. “Amun.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London and
Boston: 1986, 4–17.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 101
V. A. Tobin. “Amun and Amun-Re.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient
Egypt I, edited by D. B. Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 82–85.
Primary sources:
PT 301; Leiden hymns; P. Boulaq XVII; Amun prayers; Qadesh inscriptions;
Khonsu Cosmogony; Arrian Book 3; Alexander Romance
ANAT (ANATH, ANTA)
Anat was a Near Eastern warrior goddess worshipped in Egypt from the late
Middle Kingdom onward. In the mythology of the Canaanites of Ugarit, Anat
was the sister, lover, and avenger of the storm god Baal. In Egypt she was regarded
as a daughter of Ra and a consort of the storm god Seth. She was a
formidable defender of the sun god and protected kings on the battlefield.
In Egyptian art, Anat was usually represented as a woman carrying a shield,
a spear, and an axe. One spell refers to Anat fighting alongside Ra against a
troop of wild donkeys who embodied the forces of chaos. So fierce was this contest
that Anat gathered the blood of the wounded sun god in fifteen metal
bowls. King Rameses III claimed that Anat had been his shield in the equally
desperate struggle against the invading Sea Peoples.
In Canaanite mythology, Anat and Baal mated in the forms of cow and bull;
in Egypt, Anat was called the “great cow of Seth.” In a myth used in several
spells, Seth sees the Seed Goddess bathing and has sex with her. Only the creator
sun god is allowed to mate with the Seed Goddess, so this sacrilegious act
poisons Seth. Anat, “the woman who acts like a warrior,” hastens to her father
Ra to demand help for Seth. Perhaps out of fear of his warrior daughter, Ra has
Isis cure Seth with her magic.
See also Astarte; Eye of Ra; Hathor; Seth
References and further reading:
J. van Dijk. “Anat, Seth and the Seed of Pre.” In Scripta signa vocis, edited by
H. L. J. Vanstiphout et al. Groningen, Netherlands: 1986, 31–52.
J. Goodnick Westenholz. “Goddesses of the Ancient Near East 3000–1000 BC.” In
Ancient Goddesses: The Myths and the Evidence, edited by L. Goodison and
C. Morris. London: 1998, 63–82.
Primary sources:
P. Chester Beatty VII; HMP; P. Leiden I 343–345.6; H&S
ANDJETY (ANEDJETI)
Andjety was the local god of Busiris whose attributes were the crook and the
flail.
See also Osiris
102 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
ANTI (ANTY)
An Upper Egyptian falcon god who was brutally punished for crimes against
the gods, Anti was closely associated with both Horus and Seth. He was usually
depicted as a falcon in a boat, but he could be shown as a griffin or as a
man with the distinctive head of the Seth animal. Anti sometimes embodies
the bad qualities of Horus, but in Coffin Texts spell 942 he is a manifestation
of Seth who is shaved or skinned by a goddess in revenge for “turning the land
upside down.”
A myth in Papyrus Jumilhac explains why the cult statue of Anti is made
of silver rather than the usual gold. Anti was condemned for some terrible
crime that he had committed, probably the decapitation of a cow goddess. His
skin and his flesh were flayed off his bones as a punishment and hung on a pole.
Like all gods, Anti’s flesh was made of gold and his bones of silver, so only the
silver was left. When Anti was forgiven, the cow goddess restored his flesh with
her healing milk.
Anti seems to be identical with Nemty, another divine falcon who was
punished by the gods. In a New Kingdom story the Divine Tribunal retires to an
island to consider whether to award the crown of Egypt to Horus or Seth. The
deities who make up the Tribunal do not want to be disturbed by Isis, the
mother of Horus. They order Nemty, the divine ferryman, not to take any
woman who looks like Isis to the island. Isis disguises herself as an old hag and
bribes Nemty with a gold ring to ferry her to the island. After she makes a fool
of Seth, he demands that Nemty be punished. The Divine Tribunal orders all
Nemty’s toes (or claws) to be chopped off. Nemty vows that gold shall be taboo
in his town forever, providing another explanation for the use of silver in his
temples.
This was not the end of Nemty’s misfortunes. A spell recounts how Horus
and a god who is probably Nemty travel together in a golden boat. When Nemty
is bitten and poisoned, he begs Horus to heal him. Horus offers to help in exchange
for Nemty’s true name. Nemty tries to fool him by giving the grandiose
names of other deities, but in the end he has to tell the truth. Horus cures him
and gains lasting power over Nemty.
See also Anubis; Bes and Beset; Horus; Seth
References and further reading:
J. F. Borghouts. “The Edition of Magical Papyri in Turin: a Progress Report.” In La
Magia in Egitto, edited by A. Roccati and A. Siliotti. Milan: 1987, 257–270.
G. Hart. “Anti.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London and
Boston: 1986, 19–21.
Primary sources:
CT 942; H&S; Cairo calendar; PJ
Deities, Themes, and Concepts

ANUBIS (ANPU, INPW)
Anubis was the terrifying canine god who presided over the mummification of
bodies and guarded burials. He was usually shown as a seated black jackal or as
a man with the head of a jackal or wild dog. Anubis helped to judge the dead,
and he and his army of messengers were charged with punishing those who violated
tombs or offended the gods.
The jackals and wild dogs who lived on the edge of the desert were carrion
eaters who might dig up shallowly buried corpses. To avert this horrible end for
their dead, the early Egyptians tried to placate Anubis, “the dog who swallows
millions.” Most of the epithets of Anubis link him with death and burial. He
was “the one who is in the place of embalming,” “the Lord of the Sacred Land”
(the desert cemeteries), and “the Foremost of the Westerners,” that is, the
leader of the dead. Anubis had a female counterpart, Anput, who is also shown
as a jackal.
For most of the Old Kingdom, Anubis was the most important funerary deity.
His figure was carved in tomb entrances to warn off grave robbers at a time
when no other deities could be shown in nonroyal tombs. By the end of the
third millennium BCE, Osiris had become the King of the Dead. Anubis was incorporated
into the Osiris myth as the god who invented mummification to preserve
the corpse of Osiris. He became the chief guardian of the mummy of
Osiris and a supporter of Isis and her son, Horus. Anubis came to be regarded as
a son of Osiris, but the darker side of his character was remembered in the epithet
“the one who eats his father.”
Anubis’s title, Master of Secrets, chiefly referred to the gruesome secrets of
the embalming tent. He was particularly associated with the bandaging of
mummies and with the ceremony known as the Opening of the Mouth Ritual.
This was performed to give the mummy back the senses it had enjoyed in life.
104 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 21. Anubis (far left), the Sons of Horus, and other deities defeat and imprison Seth. In this
page from Papyrus Jumilhac, Seth (far right) is shown upsidedown below the throne of Osiris.
(Art Resource)
In the Book of the Dead, Anubis is shown in the throne room of Osiris supervising
the weighing of the hearts of the dead. Among his duties was to fetch the
hearts of the Followers of Seth.
A story recorded in the first millennium BCE tells how the wicked god Seth
disguised himself as a leopard to approach the body of Osiris. He was seized by
Anubis and branded all over with a hot iron. This, according to Egyptian myth,
is how the leopard got its spots. Anubis then flayed Seth and wore his bloody
skin as a warning to evildoers. By this era, Anubis was said to command an
army of demon messengers who inflicted suffering and death.
Anubis remained an important funerary god in the Roman Period, but his
cult was singled out for abuse by Roman writers. This may have been partly because
of his popularity with necromancers. Demotic spells explain how to summon
Anubis, the Keeper of the Keys to the Underworld, by methods such as
drawing his image in the blood of a black dog. When he appeared, Anubis was
used as a go-between to fetch gods and spirits from the underworld to answer
the magician’s questions. Anubis also acted as an enforcer of curses; a role he
plays to this day in horror films.
See also Nephthys; Osiris; Seth; Thoth; Wepwawet
References and further reading:
D. M. Doxey. “Anubis.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt I, edited
by D. B. Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 97–98.
S. T. Hollis. “Anubis’s Mortuary Functions in ‘The Tale of the Two Brothers.’” In
Hermes Aegypticus, edited by T. DuQuesne. Oxford: 1995, 87–100.
Primary Sources:
PT 437; CT 825, 936; BD 175; PJ; I&O; PDM XIV.1–92, 395–427; PDM Supp.101–30
ANUKET (ANUKIS)
Anuket was a goddess worshipped on Egypt’s southern border.
See also Satet and Anuket
APIS
Apis was a bull kept at Memphis who was the most important of all sacred animals.
In life, the Apis bull was honored as the physical manifestation of Ptah; in
death he was worshipped as a form of Osiris. A festival called the Running of
the Apis Bull is recorded as early as the First Dynasty. By the Late Period the
Apis bull had become a kind of national mascot.
When an Apis bull died, he was mourned as if he were Osiris himself and
given an extravagant funeral. Priests searched Egypt for a calf with the right
markings to be recognized as the new Apis. The mother of the chosen calf was
given a name (such as “the one of Bastet”) and honored as a manifestation of
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 105
Isis. The new bull was crowned at full moon by the high priest of Ptah. Then he
and his mother were installed in palatial quarters in the grounds of the temple
of Ptah. The actions of the Apis bull were carefully watched because they were
believed to predict the future.
The Apis bull came to be closely linked to the myth of the repeated death
and regeneration of Osiris. Diodorus Siculus was told that when Osiris died, his
soul had passed into the first Apis bull and was then preserved in each new bull.
According to Plutarch, each Apis bull was believed to be miraculously generated
by the light of the moon. Herodotus, on the other hand, recorded that each
Apis was conceived when a lightning bolt hit his mother.
Herodotus also related that an Apis bull of the sixth century BCE was
stabbed to death by the invading Persian king, Cambyses. The king is said to
have been driven mad as a punishment for this sacrilegious act. Plutarch also
referred to a legend about the slaughter of the Apis bull by Cambyses. He says
that after the bull was killed, its corpse was thrown out of the temple. No carrion
eaters would come near the holy animal, except dogs. By devouring the
body of the Apis bull, dogs lost their place of honor in Egyptian religion and became
“unclean” animals.
See also Cattle; Ptah; Sokar
References and further reading:
H. S . Smith. A Visit to Ancient Egypt. Life at Memphis and Saqqara (ca 500–30
BC). Warminster, England: 1974.
D. J. Thompson. “Apis and Other Cults.” In Memphis under the Ptolemies.
Princeton: 1988, 190–211.
Primary sources:
Diodorus I.84–85; Herodotus H III.27–30; I&O 20, 44; P. Vindob
APOPHIS (APEP)
Apophis was the most dangerous of the chaos monsters who constantly threatened
the divine order. He was sometimes described as a huge crocodile but was
usually shown as a giant snake. Every night Apophis attacked the boat of the
sun god as it passed through the underworld. He was beaten back and slaughtered,
but however many times he was killed he always came back to life again.
In Egyptian myth, snakes can be divine protectors or symbols of renewal,
but the Apophis snake seems to be an entirely destructive force. He was the
negative counterpart of the snake form of the creator god. Apophis was first
mentioned in the twenty-first century BCE. A much later creation myth explained
that Apophis sprang from the saliva of the goddess Neith when she
was still in the primeval waters. Her spit became a snake 120 yards long. He

was “the Great Rebel,” the “Evil One” who led the forces of chaos against the
sun god Ra.
The idea of the Apophis snake may have come from the African python,
which can open its mouth wide enough to swallow a person. Apophis is probably
the unnamed snake demon who tried to swallow the nun, the primeval waters,
but was forced to cough them up again. The eyes of Apophis seem to have
been particularly feared, and he was said to make a terrible roaring sound. The
movement of his body could cause earthquakes, and he was associated with the
hidden sandbanks that were a danger to boats on the Nile. It has been suggested
that a combination of the snake and crocodile forms of Apophis may be the origin
of the dragons of medieval legend.
In Egyptian accounts of the nightly journey of the sun through the underworld,
Apophis usually attacks in the seventh and the twelfth hours of the
night. Powerful deities stand in the prow of the solar barque to protect the sun
god against Apophis. Seth, the strongest of the gods, can be shown clubbing or
spearing the Apophis snake. The fight between Seth and Apophis has sometimes
been interpreted as a myth to explain thunderstorms. Another myth, of
which no detailed version survives, told how the Great Tom Cat, a form of Ra,
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 107
Figure 22. A form of the sun god known as the Great Tom Cat slays Apophis under the ished tree
at Heliopolis. From a painting in a tomb at Deir el-Medina. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
cut off the head of Apophis under the sacred ished tree “on the night of making
war and driving off the rebels.”
The spirits of the dead were expected to join in the struggle against
Apophis, and rituals were performed in temples to ensure his defeat. In the
Book of Overthrowing Apophis, the most terrifying deities in the Egyptian pantheon
were evoked to combat the chaos serpent and destroy all the aspects of
his being, such as his body, his name, his shadow, and his magic. Priests acted
out this unending war by drawing pictures or making models of Apophis. These
were cursed and then destroyed by stabbing, trampling, and burning.
See also Atum; Boats; Crocodiles; Feline Deities; Ra; Seth; Snakes
References and further reading:
J. F. Borghouts. “The Evil Eye of Apophis.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 59
(1973): 114–150.
E. Hornung. “The Triumph of Magic: The Sun God’s Victory over Apophis.” In The
Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity. London and New York: 1990, 103–113.
Primary sources:
CT 414; BD 17, 39, 108; Ad; BOD; BOG; BRP
ARSAPHES
See Heryshef
ASH
Ash was the god of the western desert and its oases. Later identified with Seth.
ASTARTE (ASHTARTE)
Astarte was a Near Eastern war goddess who was introduced into Egypt during
the Second Intermediate Period. In Egyptian myth she became the daughter of
Ra or Ptah and a consort of Seth. She is probably the same goddess worshipped
by the Philistines as Ashtoreth and the Canaanites as Ashera. She also had
much in common with the important Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar (Ashtar),
the Lady of Battle. In Egyptian art, Astarte was usually shown naked, brandishing
weapons and riding on horseback or driving a chariot. This made her a very
alien figure. Egyptian goddesses were not usually shown naked, and Egyptian
women never rode horses.
The lion was one of Astarte’s sacred animals, and Astarte was sometimes
given a lion’s head. This identified her with the Eye of the Sun: the solar lioness
who protected her father Ra. Like other goddesses who play this role, Astarte
could also appear as a beautiful seductive woman.
In a New Kingdom story, Seth is offered the goddesses Astarte and Anat as
compensation for losing the throne to Horus. A spell refers to Astarte and
108 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Anat’s becoming pregnant but not giving birth, possibly because of Seth’s association
with abortion. Astarte is also linked with Seth in a fragmentary New
Kingdom tale known as Astarte and the Sea. This story is very similar to a
myth from Ugarit in northern Syria in which the god Baal overcomes the sea
monster Yam.
The tale begins with an account of the separation of the earth and sky and
the creation of the world. The rule of the creator is challenged by Yam (the Sea),
who embodies the chaotic aspect of the primeval ocean. Yam demands the tribute
due to an overlord. The harvest goddess, Renenutet, delivers boxes of treasure,
but it is not enough. Renenutet sends a bird messenger to Astarte’s house
to wake the goddess and tell her to take more tribute to Yam. Astarte weeps at
the message, but she goes to the shore and sings and dances to attract the sea
monster. Yam then wants her for his bride. Astarte is welcomed by the Ennead,
who give up some of their most precious possessions to form her dowry.
Yam threatens to flood the whole earth if he does not get what he wants.
When Yam comes to collect the treasure, he is challenged by Seth. In the
Ugaritic myth, Baal kills the sea monster, scatters the pieces of its body, and declares
himself king. The damaged Egyptian version probably ended with Seth
defeating Yam and claiming Astarte as his prize.
See also Anat; Eye of Ra; Renenutet; Seth
References and further reading:
A. L. Perlman. Asherah and Astarte in the Old Testament and in Ugaritic
Literature. Berkeley: 1978.
J. B. Pritchard. Palestinian Figurines in Relation to Certain Goddesses Known
through Literature. New Haven: 1943.
Primary Sources:
H&S; Astarte and the Sea; P. Leiden I 343–345.4; HMP
ATEN (ATON)
Aten was a form of the sun god promoted by King Amenhotep IV in the fourteenth
century BCE. This king changed his name to Akhenaten, which probably
means “one effective on behalf of Aten.” He built huge roofless temples to
Aten, at first in Thebes and then in a new capital city, Akhetaten (Horizon of
Aten). Aten was shown as a disk or sphere with rays ending in human hands
holding the symbol of life. In Akhetaten (modern Tell el-Amarna), Aten was
worshipped as the “sole god without equal.” He was the god of light who had
made the world and sustained it every day.
Surviving hymns to Aten stress his role as benevolent creator. There is no
long sequence of events leading up to creation. Aten is simply said to have
“made everything according to his heart” when he was alone. This act of cre-
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 109
ation was renewed every morning at sunrise. The hymns list the creatures
given life by Aten in loving detail. “The flowers live because of your rays, the
seeds sprout from the soil when you shine. Refreshed by your sight all flocks of
animals frisk. Birds in the nest fly up joyfully, beating their wings in praise of
the living Aten, their creator.” It is emphasized that Aten created all the foreign
countries and their peoples, not just Egypt and the Egyptians. The only category
of beings who are missing are the numerous gods and goddesses who would
come first in more traditional accounts of creation.
The worship of Aten as the solar disk had been prominent from the beginning
of the New Kingdom. In the early years of Akhenaten’s reign, Aten was
identified with various manifestations of the creator sun god such as Ra-
Horakhty and Shu. Later these references to other deities were purged, and Aten
was redefined as “the light which comes from the solar disk.” This could not
really be depicted, so the disk-and-rays image of Aten may be no more than an
elaborate hieroglyphic writing of the god’s name. The rays only hold out life to
the king and the female members of the royal family. Everyone else was expected
to receive life from Akhenaten and his chief queen, Nefertiti, in return
for absolute loyalty.
The worship of the most popular creator god, Amun-Ra, was banned, and
the cults of other deities were neglected or ignored. Akhenaten tried to abolish
most of the complex mythology that had grown up around the solar cycle.
There was to be no nightly struggle against the forces of chaos. Akhenaten’s
theology produced no explanation for the presence of evil or sorrow in the
world. When the Aten was absent at night, all creatures “sleep as though dead.”
The actual dead were no longer thought to pass into another world. They could
only expect to spend eternity adoring Aten in his temples, woken every morning
by his light.
Akhenaten’s ideas never seem to have gained popular acceptance. A few
years after his death, his policies were reversed. Amun-Ra became the chief deity
of the state again, and Aten went back to being an aspect of the sun god.
Speculation continued, however, about whether all deities were simply transient
manifestations of the one creator.
See also Amun; Ra; Shu and Tefnut
References and further reading:
R. E. Freed et al. Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten. Nefertiti. Tutankhamun.
Boston: 1999.
E. Hornung. Akhenaten and the Religion of Light. Translated by D. Lorton. Ithaca
and London: 1999.
Primary sources:
Aten hymns
110 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
ATUM (ATEM)
A creator deity who began and
ended the world, Atum was the
senior deity of the group of nine
gods known as the Ennead of
Heliopolis. When Atum became
aware of his loneliness, he masturbated
and impregnated himself
with his own semen to produce
the divine siblings Shu
and Tefnut. Atum and Ra were
often regarded as the primordial
and solar aspects of the creator.
The joint deity Ra-Atum (or
Atum-Ra) wore the Double
Crown of Upper and Lower
Egypt to indicate his position as
King of the Gods. Within the
daily solar cycle, Atum was the
setting sun “who becomes old
every evening.”
At the beginning and end of
each of the great cycles of existence,
Atum took form in the
primeval waters as a snake or an eel. Atum and the Apophis serpent have been
interpreted by some Egyptologists as the positive and negative forces within
chaos. The name Atum comes from a word meaning completeness or totality.
The potential for all life was contained within Atum. When the Primeval
Mound came into existence, Atum had a place to begin creation. He conceived
and gave birth to the first two-gendered deities. As the “father and mother” of
the gods, Atum was the ultimate divine and royal ancestor.
In the act of creation, Atum was shown in human form holding or sucking
his erect penis. From the New Kingdom onward, the Hand of Atum was personified
as a goddess, usually Hathor Nebet-hetepet or Iusaas. The image of the
hand and the penis coming together to create life could be replaced by the concept
of a divine union between the male and female principles inherent in the
creator. A Hand of Atum is also mentioned in magical texts as a powerful talisman
to drive away evil. In Egyptian symbolism, beings and images often had
dual sexual and apotropaic meanings.

Another part of Atum with an independent existence was his eye. The coalescence
of Atum with Ra is expressed in the myth in which Atum sends out
his eye to bring light to the primeval darkness. This eye was also a goddess who
was both the daughter and the consort of the creator. The Eye goddess was
mainly referred to as the Eye of Ra, but occasionally as the Eye of Atum. These
terms could be used to express a contrast between the headstrong and dangerous
aspect of this goddess (the Eye of Ra) and her more amenable, protective aspect
(the Eye of Atum). Sometimes, however, the Eye of Ra was the sun and the
Eye of Atum was the moon.
At a later stage in mythical history, Ra-Atum and his warrior daughter
fought a great battle against the forces of chaos. The key event was the slaughter
of the chaos monster Apophis under the ished tree. This was a sacred tree
growing in Heliopolis that was linked to the destiny of all beings. During this
battle, Ra-Atum took the form of a cat, a mongoose, or an ichneumon, all predators
that kill snakes (see Figure 22).
In solar mythology Atum was often paired with Khepri. They were complementary
opposites, the setting and rising sun. In some Underworld Books,
Atum is shown as an elderly man leaning on a stick. This is a rare phenomenon
in Egyptian art, but it reflects the literary tradition that the sun god aged and
became vulnerable to rebellions by deities and people. Such rebellions led to
great changes in the nature of the world, such as the creator sun god’s departure
from earth to live in the heavens or the dissolution of the whole cosmos. In
Book of the Dead spell 175, Atum warns Osiris that after millions of years he
will destroy everything that he has made.
See also Bastet; Eye of Ra; Khepri; Ra; Shu and Tefnut
References and further reading:
K. Mysliwiec. “Atum.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt I, edited by
D. Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 158–160.
J. Zandee. “The Birth-giving Creator-god in Ancient Egypt.” In Studies in
Pharaonic Religion and Society, edited by A. B. Lloyd. London: 1992, 169–185.
Primary sources:
PT 527, 600, 606; CT 76, 80; BD 17, 175; Ad; BOG Hours 2, 3, 7; HMP; Magical
statue texts; MT; BRP
BAAL
Baal was a Syrian storm and sky god often identified with Seth.
See also Anat; Seth
BABI (BABA)
Babi was a fierce and virile baboon god.
See also Baboons

BABOONS
The “dog-faced” baboon (Papio cynocephalus) was an important sacred animal.
The male baboon was particularly associated with ferocious gods and lunar
deities. Baboons in a group were often dawn gods who helped the sun to rise.
Statues and figurines of baboons were placed in temples and tombs from
the Protodynastic Period onward. A god called Babi seems to have been endowed
with the aggressive virility of a dominant male baboon. This deity lived
on the entrails of the dead but could be persuaded to help deceased men to enjoy
the pleasures of sex in the afterlife. Another early baboon deity was known
simply as the Great White One. He seems to have been a personification of the
royal ancestors, but his name suggests that he had a lunar aspect.
The lunar gods Khonsu and Thoth both had baboon forms. Colossal statues
of baboons flanked the entrance to Thoth’s greatest temple at Hermopolis.
Initially this baboon form may only have been associated with Thoth’s lunar aspect.
Later it was prominent whenever Thoth was honored as the god of scribes
and writing, perhaps because a baboon’s dexterous hands resemble those of people.
In a tale from the Greco-Roman Period, a magician makes two wax baboons
come to life and write down thirty-five good stories and thirty-five bad stories.
A baboon was often shown sitting on top of the scales in which the hearts
of the dead were weighed against the feather symbol of truth. This baboon was
sometimes identified with Thoth, the recorder of divine judgments, and sometimes
with Khonsu, “who eats the hearts of the dead.” Four baboons with
scorching breath guarded the Lake of Fire in the underworld, where they judged
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 113
Figure 24. A deceased woman and a baboon adoring the sun. Vignette from a copy of the Book of
the Dead. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
the rich and the poor alike. It was in the form of a baboon that Thoth traveled
through the Nubian desert in search of the fiery daughter of the sun god.
The eight baboons of the horizon were associated with solar worship. These
baboons (sometimes reduced to four or two) were shown standing on their hind
legs and raising their front paws to greet the rising sun. “The baboons, the souls
of the east, praise you when they call out to you at the appearance of your sun
disk.” The baboons were sometimes equated with the eight Heh gods who held
up the sky. The separation of earth and sky so that the first sunrise could take
place was one of the most important episodes in the Egyptian creation story.
This cosmic event was repeated each dawn.
Wild baboons do stretch and chatter when waking up and moving off at
first light. This was interpreted as singing and dancing for the sun god Ra, so baboons
were thought to be the first creatures to pay proper religious observances.
Baboons were kept as sacred animals in several Egyptian temples. There was a
belief reported by some Classical writers that the most learned Egyptian priests
understood the secret language of baboons. This was thought to be the natural
language of true religion.
See also Eye of Ra; Khepri; Khonsu; Moon; Ogdoad of Hermopolis; Ra; Thoth
References and further reading:
H. te Velde. “Some Remarks on the Mysterious Language of the Baboons.” In
Funerary Symbols and Religion, edited by J. H. Kamistra et al. Kampen,
Netherlands: 1988, 129–137.
Primary sources:
BD 15, 100, 126; Ad 1st hour; KASP; Solar hymns; Petese; EofS
BANEBDJEDET (BANEBDJED)
A ram god associated with the town of Mendes (Djedet), Banebdjedet was the
northern equivalent of the god Khnum. His sacred animal was a ram or a goat.
His consort was a fish or dolphin goddess called Hatmehyt (Foremost of the
Fishes), who seems to have been the original local deity of Mendes.
As the word for ram (ba) and the word for soul or manifestation sounded
the same in Egyptian, ram gods were often regarded as manifestations of other
deities. Banebdjedet could be shown with four rams’ heads representing the four
bas of the creator sun god. This linked Banebdjedet with Osiris, who was often
named as a ba of the sun god. The Book of the Heavenly Cow states that “the
ba of Osiris is the ram of Mendes.” Passages in the Coffin Texts suggest that the
soul of Osiris took refuge in Mendes when his body was killed by Seth.
Banebdjedet could also be identified with the first four gods to rule Egypt: Ra-
Atum, Shu, Geb, and Osiris. Huge granite shrines for these four deities were set
up in the sanctuary at Mendes.
114 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Banebdjedet was not always treated as a form of Osiris. In a New Kingdom
story, he is consulted by the Divine Tribunal. When they order the ram god to
judge between Horus and Seth, he diplomatically suggests that they ask the
goddess Neith instead. When that fails to settle matters, Banebdjedet proposes
that the throne be given to Seth because he is older than Horus.
Ram gods were particularly renowned for their virility, and one of
Banebdjedet’s epithets was Lord of Sexual Pleasure. A stela from a chapel in the
Ramesseum complex records that the god Ptah took the form of Banebdjedet to
sleep with a mortal woman. The son that resulted was the future pharaoh,
Rameses II. Greek writers reported that a male goat was honored as a fertility
god at Mendes and identified with the Greek god Pan. A Persian king of the
fourth century BCE is alleged to have gone mad after sacking the temple and eating
the sacred goat. The sexual aspect of the cult at Mendes made it particularly
disliked by early Christians. Banebdjedet’s form as a ram or goat-headed man
was reinterpreted as a devil figure who entered Western tradition as the horned
King of the Witches.
See also Heryshef; Imhotep; Khnum; Osiris
References and further reading:
H. de Meulenaere. “Cults and Priesthoods of the Mendesian Nome.” In H. de
Meulenaere and P. MacKay. Mendes II. Warminster, England: 1976,174–177.
G. Hart. “Banebdjedet.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London
and Boston: 1986, 52–53.
Primary sources:
CT 60; H&S; RBM; Mendes stela; Hibis texts; Herodotus H II.46; Diodorus I.84
BASTET (BAST, BOUBASTIS, PASHT)
Bastet was a feline goddess who mothered the king and destroyed his enemies.
Her name probably means She of the Ointment Jar. Her main cult center was at
Bubastis in the eastern Delta. As “the Eye of Ra who protects her father Ra,”
she was a manifestation of the solar eye. Bastet was regarded as both the daughter
and the consort of Atum-Ra. Their son, Mahes (Mihos), was a lion deity.
Bastet herself was generally shown as a lion-headed woman until the end of the
second millennium BCE, when her cat and cat-headed forms became prominent.
From the Pyramid Texts onward, Bastet has a double aspect of nurturing
mother and terrifying avenger. It is the demonic aspect that mainly features in
the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead and in medical spells. The “slaughterers
of Bastet” were said to inflict plague and other disasters on humanity.
One spell advises pretending to be the “son of Bastet” in order to avoid catching
the plague. Bastet may be the poisoned cat who is cured by Ra in a myth alluded
to in another healing spell.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 115

A Twelfth Dynasty text compares an Egyptian king to Sekhmet when he
smites wrongdoers and to Bastet when he protects his loyal subjects. The contrast
between these two goddesses came to be expressed visually by their lioness
and cat forms. Bastet was one of the goddesses associated with the story
of the Distant Goddess, the daughter of Ra who quarrels with her father and retreats
into the desert. She was particularly identified with the form of this goddess
known as the “Nubian cat,” who could be shown with the body of a spotted
cat and the head of a Nubian woman. A god, usually Thoth or Shu,
persuades the wandering cat to return to Egypt, where she is transformed into a
compliant and fertile divine consort.
Some scholars have interpreted this as a myth about the taming of female
sexuality. According to the Greek writer Herodotus, however, women were
freed from all constraints during an annual festival at Bubastis. They celebrated
the festival of the goddess by drinking, dancing, making music, and displaying
their genitals.
The erotic reputation of the followers of Bastet is reflected in a story about
Prince Setna composed in the later first millennium BCE. Setna encounters
Taboubu, the beautiful daughter of a priest of Bastet, and instantly falls in love
with her. Taboubu agrees to meet Setna in the house of Bastet in Memphis.
Before she will sleep with him, Taboubu makes the infatuated Setna sign a deed
116 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 25. Block showing Bastet in the ruins of her temple at Bubastis. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
giving her all his possessions. He even lets her kill his own children and feed
their bodies to cats and dogs. Setna is about to embrace Taboubu when he finds
himself alone and naked on the public highway. It has all been an illusion to
punish Setna for stealing a magical book from a tomb. In this story, the irresistible
Taboubu may be a manifestation of Bastet herself, playing her traditional
role of punisher of humans who have offended the gods.
See also Eye of Ra; Feline Deities; Magicians; Moon; Mut; Sekhmet
References and further reading:
J. Malek. The Cat in Ancient Egypt. London: 1993, 94–111, 126–127.
G. Pinch. “The Nicholson Museum Hathor Capital.” In Egyptian Art in the
Nicholson Museum, edited by B. Ockingo and K. Sowado. Sidney: In press.
Primary sources:
PT 508; Loyalist Instruction; Sekhmet litany; BRP; Setna cycle
BAT
Bat was a primeval cow goddess worshipped in the Mansion of the Sistrum.
See also Cattle; Hathor
BATA
Bata was a bull god regarded as a form of Seth.
See also Cattle
BENU BIRD (PHOENIX)
In some Egyptian creation myths the benu bird is the oldest living creature.
When the first land rose out of the dark waters of chaos, the shining benu bird
alighted on this primeval mound. Its cry was the first sound ever heard. The
earliest references to the benu bird seem to describe it as a yellow wagtail, but
it was later shown as a type of heron (see Figure 11).
The word benu probably comes from an Egyptian verb meaning to rise and
shine. The benu bird may originally have been identified with Venus as the
morning star, making it the forerunner of the renewal of creation each dawn.
The cry of the benu bird was the point at which time began. It was also the benu
bird who would announce the end of time and the return of the world to chaos.
From the Pyramid Texts onward, the benu bird was closely associated with
the creator sun god. In Heliopolis, the center of solar worship, the benu bird
was said to perch on the benben stone, a kind of primitive obelisk, or in the
branches of a sacred willow tree. When Egyptian kings had reigned for thirty
years, they asked the benu bird to renew their strength and vitality.
Both Ra and Osiris could be identified with the benu bird, an expression of
the “secret knowledge” that these two gods were one. As a manifestation of
Osiris, the benu bird led the spirits of the dead through the dangers of the un-
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 117
derworld. Some spells in the Book of the Dead aim to assist the dead to transform
themselves into benu birds, so that they can travel freely between worlds.
The benu bird seems to have been the prototype for the Classical myth of
the phoenix, a creature of which there was never more than one at a time. In
the fifth century BC, the Greek writer Herodotus claimed to have visited
Heliopolis and been told about a marvelous red-gold bird known as a phoenix.
This bird was said to visit the temple of the sun at Heliopolis every 500 years
carrying the ashes of its parent inside an egg of myrrh. It was presumably from
this egg that the next phoenix would eventually hatch.
See also Atum; Birds; Primeval Mound; Ra
References and further reading:
R. T. Rundle Clark. “The Phoenix.” In Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt.
London: 1959, 245–249.
S. Quirke. “Benu Bird of Ra, the ‘Phoenix’ of Egypt.” In The Cult of Ra Sun-worship
in Ancient Egypt. London: 2001, 27–30.
Primary sources:
PT 600; CT 76, 335; BD 13, 17, 29b, 83; Herodotus H II.73
BES AND BESET
Bes and Beset were protective dwarf deities closely associated with childbirth
and rebirth. A number of dwarf deities are known from Egyptian art under the
names of Aha, Hity (Haty), or Bes. They often appear in groups—strangling
snakes, waving knives, or playing musical instruments. Aha, whose name means
Fighter, attacked and overcame the forces of evil such as demons, chaos serpents,
and foreign sorcerers. Hity was a kind of divine exorcist who drove away evil by
stamping, dancing, and banging a drum or a tambourine. Bes, and the female
counterpart whom Egyptologists call Beset, performed similar functions.
By the end of the second millennium BCE, Bes and Beset were sometimes
identified with the divine siblings, Shu and Tefnut. Paradoxically, Bes became a
giant dwarf whose body reached from the underworld to the heavens. He could
also be regarded as a special embryonic form of the creator sun god. It may be in
this role that Bes can be shown as an androgynous being suckling or cuddling
baby Bes figures, monkeys, or kittens. In the first millennium BCE, the joint deity
Horus-Bes figured in magic as a divine healer and protector.
Egyptian “old wives” probably told stories about the antics of Bes, but they
do not survive in the written record. The evidence for dwarf deities is mainly
pictorial. They appear on magical objects, bedroom furniture, and items used to
contain or apply makeup. Bes amulets and figurines were popular for over 2,000
years. Some women even decorated their bodies with Bes tattoos to improve
their sex life or fertility.
118 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
The masklike face of Bes has wide eyes, a flat nose, and a projecting tongue.
It is framed by hair that sometimes looks like a lion’s mane. Originally Bes may
have been a dwarf wearing the entire skin of a lion or a leopard. By the later second
millennium BCE he is usually a half-human, half-animal creature, with a
furry body, a long tail, and a face as ugly as an “old monkey.” The spotted pelt
of some Bes and Beset figures may relate to the myth in which the flayed skin
of Anti or Seth becomes a protective garment for the champions of order. The
ugliness of Bes and the way in which he often displays oversized genitals added
to his effectiveness as an apotropaic deity.
Beset had the same lion-mask features as Bes. She was sometimes shown as
a dwarf and sometimes with a body of normal proportions. Beset is unusual in
being portrayed naked. In Egyptian myth, goddesses seem to undress for one of
two reasons: to overcome some hostile force by their sexual power or to give
birth. Some figurines of Beset may show her pregnant. As a “divine mother,”
Beset could be a form of Isis or Hathor.
Complex Bes and Beset figurines of the Third Intermediate Period include
visual allusions to the myth of the Distant Goddess Hathor-Tefnut. She wandered
as a cat in the Nubian or Libyan deserts until she was persuaded to return
by Shu and Thoth, who had taken the form of apes or monkeys. Dwarf deities
such as Bes and Hity are shown in temples of the Greco-Roman Period capering
like monkeys and making music to pacify the returning goddess (see Figure 14).
During the New Kingdom, Bes was usually paired with the fearsome hippopotamus
goddess Taweret rather than with Beset. The two deities appear in
scenes celebrating the births of kings and commoners. Bes and Taweret were
also the guardians of the divine infants worshipped in the Birth Houses of temples
of the first millennium BCE. Temple and magical texts give Bes or Bes-Shu
the role of opening the womb to allow a child to be born.
The symbolism of birth was reproduced in tombs to help the dead to new
life. Some royal tombs and sarcophagi show Bes with hippopotamus-faced
demons protecting the lion-shaped bed on which the deceased hoped to be reborn.
A painted statue of Bes dominates a tomb chamber in the recently discovered
Valley of the Golden Mummies.
See also Eye of Ra; Feline Deities; Hathor; Hippopotamus Goddesses; Horus the
Child; Shu and Tefnut
References and further reading:
M. Malaise. “Bes.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt I, edited by D.
Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 179–181.
J. F. Romano. “The Origin of the Bes Image.” Bulletin of the Egyptology Seminar 2
(1980): 39–56.
Primary sources:
RBM; HMP; Medamud hymn; Edfu calendar
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 119
BIRDS
Egypt was very rich in bird life. The river Nile and the marshes teemed with
water birds, carrion eaters and birds of prey soared above the deserts, and huge
flocks of migratory birds passed overhead or wintered in the south of the country.
Many Egyptian deities had bird forms, but flocks of birds were used as a
symbol of chaos. In some Egyptian creation myths, a bird was the first living being.
The heavens could be imagined as a cosmic hawk. Many spells claimed to
bestow the power to fly to the celestial realm or between the worlds of the living
and the dead. The ba, the Egyptian concept that is closest to Western ideas
about the soul, could be shown as a human-headed bird.
Birds were traditionally hunted with throw sticks or nets. There was a
Birdcatcher God, who was the son of the Marsh Goddess. Migrating birds were
probably seen as foreign invaders, and large flocks could strip fields and orchards
bare. This may be why the common sparrow was used as a symbol in
words denoting evil things. In temples of the Greco-Roman Period, gods are
shown assisting the king to pull a clap net tight on a chaotic mass of birds. At
Kom Ombo temple, bound foreign prisoners are pictured among the struggling
birds, emphasizing that the bird-catching ritual is part of the eternal war between
order and chaos.
As the divine order was created out of the swamps of chaos, water birds
such as the goose, the heron, or the ibis were associated with the first stages of
creation. A primeval goose, named Gengen or Negeg, shrieked or cackled as it
laid the world egg. One of the tasks of the virtuous dead was to guard this egg.
The remains of the primeval egg were said to be preserved in the temple of the
ibis god, Thoth. In the temple of Horus at Edfu, the first bird was said to be a
hawk who alighted on a mat of vegetation floating on the primeval waters.
Many other gods and a few goddesses had a hawk form, including Anti,
Montu, Sokar, Sopdu, Hathor, Nephthys, and Isis. Horus was able to manifest
himself as a sky falcon 1,000 cubits long. Egyptian kings were revered as earthly
manifestations of Horus. When they died, they were said to fly to the horizon in
the form of a falcon to unite with the sun disk. The sun disk itself was often
shown with wings. Texts at Edfu claim that this was to commemorate Horus
assuming this form to blind the enemies of the sun god.
Horus could also appear as a griffin, a monster combining the powers of a
hawk, a lion, and a snake. By the Greco-Roman Period, the griffin was seen as a
symbol of divine retribution. In one of the parables told by the god Thoth to the
Distant Goddess, two vultures who represent sight and hearing learn that even
the mighty lion can be slaughtered by the griffin if he disobeys the laws of Ra.
Another of these parables concerns a vulture and a cat who are both punished
for breaking an oath sworn by Ra. The vulture in this parable is fiercely mater-
120 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
nal, which reflects the fact that one of the Egyptian words for vulture (mwt)
sounded the same as the word for mother. The vulture goddess Nekhbet was a
mythical mother to every Egyptian king. Queens traditionally wore headdresses
in the form of a vulture.
The goddesses Isis and Nephthys could take the form of kites, small birds
of prey that also ate carrion, to watch over the body of Osiris. One episode in
the New Kingdom story the Contendings of Horus and Seth tells how Isis
tricked Seth into admitting that Horus was in the right. She then turned into a
kite and flew up into a tree to mock Seth from the safety of its branches.
Isis and Nephthys, and other goddesses such as Maat, could also be shown
as winged beings. Their outspread wings offered protection and shade, like
those of the vulture goddess Nekhbet. In her bird form, Isis used her wings to
fan the breath of life back into her murdered husband. The ostrich feather worn
by the god Shu was also associated with the breath of life.
After death the personality survived as a ba. This had the power to leave
the mummy and travel through the Egyptian cosmos, though only the virtuous
soul would find a safe place to alight. From the New Kingdom onward the bas
of the dead were shown as part bird, part human. The bird body could be that of
a stork, a vulture, or a hawk. A sequence of spells in the Book of the Dead allows
the ba to transform itself into a falcon, a heron, a swallow, or the legendary
benu bird (phoenix).
The dead also aspired to join the “imperishable stars” of the northern sky,
which were sometimes pictured as swallows. In one myth, Ra devours all the
other deities. He vomits them out again as fish, but they change into birds and
fly up to the heavens to become stars.
See also Amun; Anti; Benu Bird; Eye of Horus; Horus; Isis; Primeval Mound;
Sokar; Sopdu; Thoth; Two Ladies
References and further reading:
E. Hornung. “Body and Soul.” In Idea into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian
Thought. Translated by Elizabeth Bredeck. Princeton: 1992, 167–184.
P. F. Houlihan. The Birds of Ancient Egypt. Warminster, England: 1986.
Primary sources:
BD 77–78, 83–86, 110; BofNut; H&S; Cairo calendar; LWD; Edfu cosmology; EofS.
BOATS
Boats were one of the most important forms of transport in Ancient Egypt, especially
during the inundation season, so it is natural that they are prominent
Egyptian myth. From a very early period the divine realm was thought of as a
watery region high above the earth consisting of rivers, islands, and marshes.
The Duat, the Egyptian underworld, also contained rivers, lakes, and marshy ar-
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 121
eas. Therefore, deities and the spirits of the dead were often shown or described
as traveling by boat. In actual cult practice, when divine statues left their sanctuaries
they were transported in boat-shaped shrines.
In the Pyramid Texts, the deceased king voyages to the horizon on a raft or
skiff made from reeds. Groups of full-size timber boats were buried near royal
tombs for most of the third millennium BCE. Scenes on some tomb walls from
this era show the mummies of important people being taken by boat on a
posthumous pilgrimage to Busiris or Abydos, the holy towns of Osiris, the god
of the underworld.
In many passages in the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead, the deceased
soul has to persuade a divine ferryman to help him or her across the
rivers of the underworld. To succeed, it was necessary to know the names of the
ferryman and every part of his boat. The deceased could also be shown sailing
their own boats with the help of the goddess of the sweet north wind. Other funerary
spells were intended to assist the dead to join the crew of the solar
barque. This was the boat in which the sun god traveled across the sky and
through the underworld.
The solar barque was called the Boat of Millions because all the gods and
all the souls of the blessed dead might be needed in its crew. The crew is sometimes
referred to as rowing the solar barque, but this is never shown. Instead, a
number of deities, often in the form of jackals or cobras, can be depicted towing
the boat along (see Figure 43). In some Underworld Books there are two solar
barques, the Day Boat (Mandjet) and the Night Boat (Mesektet). It is possible
that the two huge cedar-wood boats buried beside the Great Pyramid of Khufu
(Cheops) represented these barques.
The sun god can be shown alone in the Day Boat, but in the Night Boat
other deities usually stand on deck ready to defend the vulnerable nocturnal
form of the sun. The dangers included submerged sandbanks and attacks by
hostile crocodiles, turtles, and snakes. The worst of these enemies was the
monstrous chaos serpent Apophis. Sometimes the solar barque was surrounded
or followed by a whole fleet of small boats carrying various protective deities
and emblems. The prow and stern posts of these boats terminate in crowns,
snakes, or human or animal heads.
The moon god and many star deities were also pictured traveling the heavens
in boats. As early as the First Dynasty, the celestial falcon, Horus, had been
shown in a boat. Several episodes in the prolonged conflict between the Two
Lords, Horus and Seth, took place in boats. In one text, Horus challenges Seth
to a race in stone boats. In the Greco-Roman Period temple at Edfu, texts and
reliefs tell the story of the triumph of Horus over the forces of Seth. With the
help of various deities, Horus repeatedly harpoons the Seth-hippopotamus who
122 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
attacks his boat. The boat of Horus seems to be presented as an earthly counterpart
of the beleaguered solar barque. This whole drama was probably acted out
from real boats on the temple lake each year.
At Abydos a model boat representing the neshmet barque, “the warship of
the gods,” took part in a reenactment of the myth of the death and revival of
Osiris. The priests who carried such boat-shrines played the role of the crew of
the divine barques. The small boat-shrines were sometimes transported between
temples on actual boats. The most famous of these was the “great noble
boat” image used as the main cult of Amun-Ra at Karnak. A story dating to the
early first millennium BCE tells how a priest called Wenamun was sent to
Lebanon to buy logs of cedar to make a new boat for Amun-Ra. He suffered
many trials and adventures, including losing all the gold and silver that was
meant to pay for the timber. The ending is missing, but the story probably concluded
with Wenamun’s triumphant return to Thebes with the precious cedar.
See also Apophis; Horus; Osiris; Ra; Sokar
References and further reading:
E. Hornung. The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity. New York: 1990, chaps. 5
to 6.
K. A. Kitchen. “Barke.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie I. Wiesbaden: 1975, 619–625
(in English).
Primary sources:
CT 398; BD 99–102, 136; Ad; BOG; BOD; H&S; Triumph of Horus; Wenamun
CATTLE
The nomadic ancestors of the Ancient Egyptians were dependent on their herds
for survival. There is evidence that cattle were treated as sacred animals as
early as the sixth millennium BCE. Cattle cults remained a central part of
Egyptian religion and mythology during the whole span of Pharaonic culture.
Human beings were said to be “God’s cattle.” Bulls were revered as symbols of
masculine strength and virility. Many gods had a bull form, and sacred bulls
were kept at some temples. A sky goddess who took the form of a cow was
among the earliest of Egyptian deities. The cow goddess under all her names
represented the loving and nurturing aspect of the divine. The king, and later
humanity in general, played the role of the calf of the divine cow.
From early times the king of Egypt was compared with the leading bull of a
herd, able to defeat all challengers. Bulls as fighters were particularly associated
with the war god Montu, who was manifest on earth as the Buchis bull. The
white bull of Min embodied male sexuality. The mysterious process of heredity
was celebrated in the concept of kings and gods being “the bulls of their mothers.”
The Mnevis bull was the messenger of the creator sun god, Ra-Atum, who

engendered all life. The Apis bull was an earthly manifestation of the creator
god Ptah. The moon could be thought of as a virile young bull when it was waxing
and as an old ox when it was waning.
Bull imagery was not entirely positive. Wild bulls were ritually hunted and
killed as symbols of the forces of chaos. In some accounts, Seth took bull form
to trample his brother Osiris to death. This Seth-bull was castrated by Anubis
and forced to carry the coffin of Osiris to burial. In the New Kingdom story the
Two Brothers, one of the brothers is called Bata, a name of Seth in his bull form.
This Bata transforms himself into a magnificent bull to visit the wife who has
deserted him to marry the king of Egypt. The queen persuades her husband to
sacrifice this bull in the hope of getting rid of Bata. He then transforms himself
into two beautiful trees that the Queen has cut down. She accidentally swallows
a sliver of the wood and falls pregnant. The child turns out to be Bata reborn.
Bata has become “the bull of his mother” and has fathered himself.
In the Pyramid Texts, “the great wild cow of the marshes” is the king’s
mother or wet nurse in the afterlife. In Pyramid Texts spell 485a, the dead king
is described as “the golden calf” of the milk goddess Hesat (Hezat). Two parallel
124 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 26. The sky goddess in cow form from the Book of the Heavenly Cow. She is
supported by Shu and the eight Heh gods. Heavenly bodies sail in boats along her
starry belly. (Art Resource)
cow and calf myths developed. In one, the cow goddess Mehet-Weret (the Great
Flood) gave birth to the sun child in the primeval marsh at the dawn of time.
The great creator goddesses Hathor and Neith could both be identified with the
Mehet-Weret cow. Neith was said to have carried the infant sun god the length
of Egypt seated between her horns. In the second myth, the Ihet cow gave birth
to and suckled the infant god Horus in the marshes of Chemmis. The Ihet cow
was most commonly identified with Isis or Hathor. One of Seth’s many crimes
was stealing milk from the cow who suckled Horus.
Royal birth scenes show a pair of cow-headed goddesses suckling the newborn
king and his ka. Life, stability, and power were said to enter the king with
the milk of the divine cow. From the Middle Kingdom onward, kings identified
with Horus in Chemmis by depicting themselves being suckled by a divine cow
hidden inside a papyrus thicket. Nonroyal people eventually became part of this
mythical archetype by showing themselves sheltering beneath the head of the
divine cow.
An Upper Egyptian deity called Bat (“female soul”) may have been the earliest
cow goddess to be associated with sky. Her cult was later absorbed into
that of Hathor. Both Hathor and the sky goddess Nut could be imagined as a gigantic
cow whose body was patterned with stars. The Book of the Heavenly
Cow describes how Nut first lifted the sun god into the heavens between her
horns. A red or gold solar disk is nearly always shown between the horns of cow
goddesses.
In graphic myths, the sun god sails along the belly of the cow each day. At
night he traveled through the inner sky along an underworld river that was
sometimes identified with Mehet-Weret.
The horned head of the sky cow acted as a symbol for the whole daily cycle
of the death and regeneration of the sun. The sky cow was the mother of the
cosmos, who gave birth to the diurnal and nocturnal forms of the sun.
A further elaboration of this idea turned the chest in which Osiris was regenerated
into the body of a cow goddess called Shentayet. The ordinary dead
could hope to be welcomed into the underworld by other forms of the divine
cow. A bull, who may be Osiris, Lord of the Cows, and seven cows with names
such as the One of Chemmis and the One Who Is Great of Love feature in a
spell for “staying alive forever.”
See also Apis; Hathor; Horus; Isis; Mehet-Weret; Min; Montu; Moon; Neith; Nut;
Seth; Two Ladies
References and further reading:
F. A. Hassan. “Primeval Goddess to Divine King: The Mythogenesis of Power in
the Early Egyptian State.” In The Followers of Horus, edited by R. Friedman and
B. Adams. Oxford: 1992, 307–321.

D. Kessler. “Bull Gods.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt I, edited
by D. Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 209–213.
G. Pinch. “Cows.” In Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford: 1993, 160–183.
Primary sources:
PT 271, 485a; BD 141, 148; BHC; RBM; TB; PJ
CROCODILES
The Nile crocodile is one of the world’s largest reptiles. It was honored in some
regions of Ancient Egypt and despised in others. The best-known crocodile deity
was Sobek, but a number of gods and demons had awe-inspiring crocodile forms.
In some traditions, a crocodile was the first creature to emerge from the primeval
waters. Crocodiles could be symbols of the life-giving power of the primeval waters
or of the forces of chaos who tried to swallow up and destroy life.
Death by crocodile was particularly dreaded because the body would be devoured.
Epithets for crocodiles include “mouth of terror” and “the one who
seizes.” When they seized people, crocodiles were thought to be carrying out
the vengeance of the gods or the decrees of fate. Diodorus Siculus claimed that
crocodiles were revered in Egypt because one had saved King Menas (Menes)
when he was chased into Lake Moeris by his own dogs. This is very similar to
an incident in the New Kingdom Tale of the Doomed Prince, in which the

prince has to jump into a lake when his trusted dog attacks him. The “crocodile
who was his fate” offers to save him in return for help against a water demon.
King Menas is said to have founded the city of Krokodilopolis in the Fayum
in gratitude for his escape. The Roman Period Book of the Fayum lists and illustrates
many of the crocodile cults of this region (see Figure 44). In the Fayum
there was a taboo against hunting crocodiles because “the ba (manifestation) of
Sobek is crocodiles.” Crocodiles were kept as sacred animals in some temples
and mummified after death.
At Athribis, the local crocodile god Khenty-Khety came to be regarded as a
form of Horus. Yet on magical stelae, Horus the Savior was asked to “drive
away all the crocodiles of the river.” At Edfu, crocodiles were reviled as
Followers of Seth. A crocodile son of Seth called Maga was a fearsome opponent
for Horus, son of Osiris. In temple texts at Edfu, the king promises to kill all
crocodiles and crush their eggs.
In the afterlife, the souls of the dead had to evade the Crocodiles of the Four
Directions, who were enemies of the four bas of the sun god. In enigmatic
scenes in New Kingdom royal tombs, the nocturnal sun has to pass through the
body of the crocodile Penwenti, who symbolizes the primeval waters, in order
to be reborn. Greek and Roman writers recorded a bizarre Egyptian belief that
ichneumons (a type of mongoose) killed crocodiles by running down their
throats and gnawing their way out through the bowels. This may be a misunderstanding
of the mythical conflict between the sun god Ra in the form of an
ichneumon and Apophis in the form of a crocodile or a snake.
See also Apophis; Horus the Child; Magicians; Neith; Onuris; Seth; Sobek
References and further reading:
C. Eyre. “Fate, Crocodiles, and the Judgement of the Dead. Some Mythological
Allusions in Egyptian Literature.” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 4 (1976):
103–114.
P. Wilson. “Slaughtering the Crocodile at Edfu and Dendera.” In The Temple in
Ancient Egypt, edited by S. Quirke. London: 1997, 179–203.
Primary sources:
BD 31–32; DP; BOE; HMP; Herodotus H II.68–69; Diodorus I.34,
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BD 31–32; DP; BOE; HMP; Herodotus H II.68–69; Diodorus I.34, 89; Strabo G
XVII.44, 47; BOF
DJED PILLAR
The djed was one of the most common of Egyptian symbols. It was used in the
hieroglyphic script to write a word that means “stability” or “immutability.”
The original djed may have been a pillar made from reeds or sheaves of corn,
but in time it came to be thought of as the backbone of the murdered god
Osiris. The djed was sometimes personified as a separate god known as “the august
djed.”
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 127
Some early uses of the djed symbol imply that it could be thought of as a
pillar holding the sky above the earth. Once a year the reigning king joined in a
ceremony at Memphis to raise a tall djed column by pulling on ropes. Ptah, the
chief god of Memphis, carried a scepter that combines the djed with an ankh,
the symbol of life. Life, stability, and power were the three qualities that gods
traditionally bestowed on kings. Raising the djed column was also part of the
Heb Sed (jubilee festival) through which an aging king’s powers were renewed.
On some occasions the raising of the djed was preceded by a mock combat between
people representing the opposing forces of order and chaos.
By the New Kingdom, the djed was closely associated with the mythology
of Osiris. The taboo subject of the murder of Osiris could be alluded to by saying
that Seth had “laid the djed on its side.” Scenes in temples or royal tombs
show the god Horus (or the king playing the role of Horus) raising the djed column
to help his father Osiris to rise from the dead. The Book of the Dead contains
a spell to be spoken over a gold djed amulet hung round the neck of a
mummy. This spell promises that the dead person will get back the use of his or
her spine and be able to sit up again like Osiris. A djed column was sometimes
painted on the bottom of coffins for the same reason. Model djed columns became
one of the amulets most commonly placed on mummies.
See also Horus; Osiris; Ptah; Sokar
References and further reading:
R. T. Rundle Clarke. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London: 1959, 235–238.
R. H. Wilkinson. Reading Egyptian Art. London: 1992, 164–165.
Primary sources:
RDP; BD 142, 155
ENNEAD OF HELIOPOLIS
The first four generations of deities in the creation myth of Heliopolis were referred
to as the Ennead of Heliopolis.
See also Atum; Geb; Isis; Nephthys; Nut; Osiris; Seth; Shu and Tefnut
EYE OF RA
The Ancient Egyptian word for eye (irt) sounded like a word for “doing” or “acting.”
This may be why the eyes of a deity are associated with divine power at its
most interventional. Since the word irt was feminine in gender, divine eyes were
personified as goddesses. In different contexts, the eyes of the creator were identified
with various celestial bodies, such as the disk of the sun, the full moon,
the morning star, and Sopdet (Sirius). These celestial eyes could all be shown as
the part-hawk, part-human eye known as the wedjat eye (see Figure 12). The Eye
of Ra was regarded as Ra’s daughter and protector. This Eye goddess was associ-
128 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
ated with both fire and water.
Her fiery glance destroyed the enemies
of the divine order while
her tears created life.
After the primordial creator
god Atum had produced Shu and
Tefnut, they became lost in the
watery darkness of the nun.
Atum sent his Eye to find them
“and gave light to darkness.”
This act was sometimes interpreted
as the first sunrise and the
moment when Atum was united
with Ra to become the creator
sun god. In the earliest versions
of the myth, the Eye that was
sent forth may have been
thought of as the morning star
that precedes the sunrise.
The Eye returned with Shu
and Tefnut, but wept with rage
when she saw that Ra-Atum had
grown a new solar eye: the
Glorious One. Human beings
were created from the tears of
the angry Eye or from the tears
of joy shed by Ra-Atum’s new
eye (see “The Creation of
Humanity” under “Linear Time”
in “Mythical Time Lines”). Ra-
Atum placated the angry Eye by placing her on his forehead as the uraeus.
Shown as a cobra coiled around the sun disk, she was more powerful than all
other deities.
Important goddesses such as Hathor, Bastet, and Mut can be called both the
Eye of Atum and the Eye of Ra. Other Egyptian texts refer to these two eyes as
if they were separate entities. This may be to distinguish between the creative
and destructive aspect of the Eye goddess. The pupil of the Eye could be thought
of as a womb in which gods and other beings were formed. A child or a dwarf
can be shown inside the Eye, representing the sun that will be born in the red
sky of dawn.

The unblinking gaze of the Eye of Ra could embody the dangerous aspects
of the sun’s heat. The rays of the sun were compared with arrows shot by a divine
archer to destroy the wicked. They could dry up the water of life and turn
fertile land into desert. A myth with many variants deals with a quarrel between
Ra and his daughter, the Eye goddess. She goes off into the deserts to the
south or west of Egypt and lives as a savage lion or a wild cat (see “The Distant
Goddess” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). The sudden disappearance
of the Eye of Ra has been interpreted by some Egyptologists as a solar
eclipse.
Ra misses his daughter and needs his Eye to defend himself against the
forces of chaos and the rebels among humanity. He sends one or more of the
gods on a dangerous mission to retrieve the wandering goddess. The ferocious
goddess is pacified by Thoth, Shu, or Onuris and persuaded to return to Egypt.
In the Greco-Roman Period, the return of the Eye goddess was linked with the
heliacal rising of Sirius that signaled the coming of the dangerous but life-giving
Nile flood.
The goddess is given an ecstatic welcome by all creation and is reconciled
with her father. She then becomes his consort and the mother of a divine child
who will be the new form of the sun god. In some places a pair of goddesses was
worshipped as the aggressive and pacified forms of the Eye of Ra, such as Satet
and Anuket at Aswan and Ayet and Nehemetawy at Herakleopolis.
On many occasions the Eye goddess fought on behalf of her father, Ra.
When part of humanity rebelled against the aging sun god, the Eye was sent
down as Sekhmet, the raging lioness, to destroy the rebels (see “The
Destruction of Humanity” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”).
Such was her ferocity that she had to be tricked into returning to her father to
prevent her from devouring all of humanity. In the fight against the Apophis
monster, the Eye of Ra fought him under many names such as Bastet, lady of
terror; Wadjyt, the Devouring Flame; Sekhmet, the Glorious Eye; and Wosret,
the Great One.
The feline Eye goddess also represented royal power at its most brutal.
Kings were described as striking down their enemies as Sekhmet had destroyed
the enemies of Ra. Satirical cartoons that showed valiant mice winning a war
against cats may have been a coded way of expressing the hope that ordinary
Egyptians could overcome royal tyranny.
See also Apophis; Atum; Bastet; Hathor; Mut; Onuris; Ra; Satet and Anuket;
Sekhmet; Snakes; Stars and Planets; Thoth
References and further reading:
J. C. Darnell. “The Apotropaic Goddess in the Eye.” Studien zur Altägyptischen
Kultur 24 (1997): 35–48.
130 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
H. te Velde. “Mut, the Eye of Re.” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur Beiheft 3
(1988): 395–403.
Primary sources:
CT 76, 80, 1000; BD 17; Crossword hymn; BHC; Mut ritual; BRP; Sekhmet litany;
Kom Ombo texts; EofS
EYES OF HORUS
The Horus eye combines a human eye and eyebrow with some of the facial
markings of a falcon (see Figure 12). Such eyes are used for the animal forms of
various deities associated with the sky. When Horus was imagined as a celestial
falcon, his right eye was the sun and his left eye was the moon. In Ancient
Egyptian, the word for eye is a feminine noun, so the eyes of male deities could
be personified as goddesses. The temporary loss or mutilation of one or both of
the eyes of Horus was a common theme in Egyptian myth. The aggressor was
usually named as Seth, and the attack put the whole cosmos in danger. Horus
was sometimes said to have rescued his own eye, but the idea that it was restored
by another deity was more common. This “whole” or “completed” eye
was known as the wedjat (udjat). The wedjat eye could represent almost any
aspect of the divine order, including kingship and the offerings made to the gods
and the dead. It also became one of the most popular of all Egyptian amulets.
Two versions of Horus are known: with eyes (Khenty-irty) and without
eyes (Khenty-en-irty). They could be represented by an ichneumon, an animal
noted for its keen sight, and a type of eyeless shrew. The vengeful Horus
Khenty-en-irty was one of the gods who perpetually tortured the evil dead.
Horus the Elder was said to have one green eye and a “lesser” white eye. Green
was sometimes equivalent to red in Egyptian symbolism, so this was the solar
eye. The white (or silver) eye was the moon. The red and white crowns of
Egyptian kings could be equated with the solar and lunar eyes. From the Old
Kingdom onward, pairs of wedjat eyes were painted on coffins for the deceased
to look out through. The glare of these celestial eyes also had apotropaic force
to protect the deceased.
As with the murder of Osiris, the wounding of the lunar eye is never very
clearly described. Some passages in the Pyramid Texts speak of Seth devouring
or trampling the “lesser eye.” Others imply that Seth gouged out the pupil of
the eye of Horus with his finger or caused it to bleed or weep. A later tradition
had Seth in the form of a black boar swallowing the eye or causing it to go blind
with rage.
When Horus is treated as the vulnerable son of Isis rather than as the cosmic
falcon, the narratives are more explicit. In the Contendings of Horus and
Seth, Seth tears out both the eyes of Horus to punish him for beheading his
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 131
mother in a fit of rage. Seth buries the eyes on a mountainside where they grow
into lotus flowers. Meanwhile, the goddess Hathor heals Horus with gazelle
milk and restores his eyes. A similar story in Papyrus Jumilhac has Anubis bury
boxes containing the eyes of Horus on a mountainside. Isis waters the eyes to
bring them back to life, creating the first grape vines in the process. This myth
reenforces the common ritual identification of the Eye of Horus with the wine,
food, and perfumes offered to the gods in temples. The growth of useful plants
from the buried eyes of Horus is a parallel to the growth of barley and wheat
from the body of his father, Osiris.
Myths that involve a single lunar Eye of Horus often name Thoth as the
god who rescued it from under the earth or under water. At some point, the eye
must have been torn apart like the body of Osiris, since Thoth is said to have
put the pieces together again. The six parts of the wedjat eye (pupil, brow, and
so on) were used in the hieroglyphic script to write the fractions that made up
the standard grain measure. Rituals of counting and completing the Eye of
Horus were performed in temples every month, linking it to the lunar cycle.
Once the eye was restored to Horus, he used it to revive his murdered father,
Osiris. In commemoration of this event, a wedjat eye was often placed
over the evisceration wound on a mummy to make the body whole again.
Horus the Physician and Thoth, the Physician of the Eye of Horus, were asked
to heal all kinds of ailments. Drugs used in Egyptian medicine were prescribed
in measurements based on the wedjat eye. An abbreviated version of the Eye of
Horus is still used by pharmacists as a symbol of their profession.
See also Eye of Ra; Feline Deities; Horus; Moon; Onuris; Seth; Thoth
References and further reading:
J. G .Griffiths. “Remarks on the Mythology of the Eyes of Horus.” Chronique d’Égypte
33 (1958): 182–193.
G. Rudnitsky. Die Aussage über das Auge des Horus. Copenhagen: 1956.
Primary sources:
PT 111, 145, 160, 587; CT 249, 157, 934–936; RDP; Ad 10th hour; BD 17, 112; PBM
10059; H&S; PJ
FELINE DEITIES
Many Egyptian deities were represented by predators of the cat family (felidae).
There were North African and Near Eastern species of lions, and leopards and
cheetahs were found to the south of Egypt. Smaller cat species, such as servals,
inhabited the deserts or marshes. One of these species, felis silvestris libyca,
seems to have been domesticated by the Egyptians by around 2000 BCE. Cats
were chiefly prized for their ability to kill pests such as rats, mice, and snakes.
Similar predators, such as mongooses and genets, seem to have been regarded as

members of the cat family by the Egyptians. The characteristics of several feline
species were sometimes combined in a single image.
Lion gods were not as important as lion goddesses, but the lion was an ancient
symbol of royal power. Male leopards and panthers (black leopards) were
associated with the uncontrollable rage of the god Seth, whereas female leopards
played a protective role. Leonine goddesses usually have a short mane or
ruff like that of a lynx or an adolescent male lion. Since they function as a manifestation
of the wrath of the sun god, their gender is ambiguous. The lion was a
component of Egyptian monsters such as Bes and Taweret, the sphinx and the
griffin. These mythical creatures were invoked as magical guardians of people
and places. There are many mentions in the Pyramid Texts of the deity Ruty
(Double Lion) who guarded the horizon, the place of regeneration for deities and
kings. This deity may derive from earlier images of a pair of leopards or panthers
who seem to represent the sky. By the New Kingdom, the spotted leopardlions
of the horizon were identified with the first divine couple, Shu and
Tefnut. An alternative representation of the place of the sun’s birth was a pair of
striped cats flanking a lotus flower.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 133
Figure 29. A king appeasing a lion-goddess who is too dangerous to be looked at directly.
A Ptolemaic relief in the temple of Horus at Edfu. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
Many other feline deities acted as ferocious guardians. According to a temple
ritual, the body of Osiris was guarded by four lion goddesses: Wadjyt,
Sekhmet, Bastet, and Shesmetet (Smithis). In the Pyramid Texts the goddess
Mafdet helps the dead king by clawing out the eyes of evil snakes. Her sacred
animal may originally have been some kind of mongoose, but she was later depicted
as a cheetah or a lynx. As the divine executioner, Mafdet served justice
by running down and slaughtering the “enemies of Ra.” Her symbol was a harpoon
fixed to a block.
The Coffin Texts mention Pakhet the Great who hunts by night as a lioness
or a panther. Her name means “the one who scratches.” The claw
amulets worn by Egyptian queens and princesses may evoke the protective
might of this goddess. The lion-headed Barque of Pakhet provided an escort for
the solar barque. Like other feline deities, she could also take the form of the
fire-spitting cobra who protected the sun god’s heirs.
Unnamed lions, lionesses, panthers, and cats are shown on magical objects
fighting the traditional enemies of the divine order (see, for example, Figure 30).
The images of lions and cats tearing out the throats of foreign captives may allude
to the myth of the Eye of Ra being sent down in her lion form (Sekhmet) to
destroy the humans who had rebelled against the sun god. Other goddesses who
could be identified with the lion form of the creator’s eye included Bastet,
Hathor, Mehit, Mut, Tefnut, and Wadjyt.
When the eye who was the first-born daughter of Ra became alienated from
her father, she wandered the deserts in the form of a lion or a cat (see “The
Distant Goddess” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). A relief in
the temple of el-Dakka in Nubia showed this goddess with the full mane of a
lion and the swollen teats of a nursing lioness. In this form she was dangerous
even to other deities. Those she devoured would be annihilated forever, with no
hope of rebirth. In her cat form she was a fierce fighter but a force for good. The
myth of Thoth and Shu luring the Distant Goddess back to Egypt with promises
of food and comfort mirrors the way the Egyptians had transformed wild cats
into pets.
It was in cat form that the daughter of Ra assisted her father in an epic battle
against the chaos monster Apophis. One terrible night Ra himself took the
form of the Great Tom Cat and fought the Apophis serpent under the ished tree
at Heliopolis. He sliced up Apophis with his knife and split the ished tree in
two, creating the twin trees of the horizon (see Figure 22).
In her pacified form, the feline daughter of Ra united with the creator sun
god to produce a divine child. At Bubastis, the lion god Mahes (Mihos, Myusis)
was the cub of Bastet and Atum-Ra. In the first millennium BCE, Bastet was increasingly
represented as a fertile mother, suckling or surrounded by many kit-
134 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
tens. Her dangerous leonine form was played down but not forgotten. An
Instruction Text of the Greco-Roman Period warns Egyptian men that women
are like a friendly cat when you can give them what they want and like a raging
lioness when you cannot.
See also Bastet; Eye of Ra; Hathor; Mut; Onuris; Ra; Sekhmet; Shu and Tefnut;
Sphinx
References and further reading:
L. Delvaux and E. Warmenbol (eds.). Les Divins Chats D’Égypte. Leuven, Belgium:
1991.
J. Malek. The Cat in Ancient Egypt. London: 1993.
Primary sources:
PT 295, 297–8, 519; CT 335, 470; BD 17, 125; LofR; Mut ritual; EofS;
Ankhsheshonq.
GEB
Geb was the chief earth god and the mate of the sky goddess Nut. They were the
children of Shu and Tefnut, the first divine couple. Geb and Nut formed the
third generation in the group of nine gods who made up the Ennead of
Heliopolis. In the early stages of creation, the earth god and the sky goddess were
locked in a passionate embrace. The forcible separation of Geb and Nut by their
father Shu was one of the most important cosmic events in Egyptian myth.
Geb was nearly always shown in human form. His skin could be painted
green, probably to symbolize the plants that “come forth from the body of
Geb.” Living creatures were said to “crawl on the back of Geb.” None of these
life-forms could come into being until Shu separated Geb and Nut so that air
and light could exist between them. After their separation, Geb and Nut became
the parents of five divine children: Osiris, Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and
Nephthys. As a sky goddess, Nut was also considered to be the mother of all
heavenly bodies, so Geb was sometimes called the “father” of the sun god Ra.
In the Book of Nut, Geb is said to be appalled by Nut’s habit of eating her children.
He is rebuked by the sun god, who explains that Nut’s behavior is a necessary
part of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Geb himself was said to swallow up the dead, and he was in charge of the
dangerous snakes who lived under the earth. Like other chthonic deities, Geb
could be a terrifying god, responsible for destructive earthquakes. The ceremony
of “hacking the ground” was said to honor Geb but may in origin have
been a rite to subdue the dangerous earth god. A myth found only in an inscription
of the fourth century BCE tells how Geb violently rebelled against his parents.
He seized the throne from Shu and forced Tefnut to be his queen. Geb assumed
most of the divine regalia of Ra but was bitten by the fiery serpent who
guarded the sun god and all legitimate rulers.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 135
It was more common to regard Geb as the appointed “heir of the gods” and
the leader of the Great Ennead. He was seen as the chief of the inhabitants of
earth. Egyptian kings were said to sit on “the throne of Geb.” Geb was usually
the main judge in the great dispute between the rival gods Horus and Seth. Geb
continued this role as a judge of the dead in the afterlife. Those found guilty of
being “enemies of Ra” were tied to the “stakes of Geb” to be executed. As the
father of Osiris, Geb could be invoked to provide fatherly help to all dead persons
who were ritually identified with Osiris.
See also Horus; Nut; Osiris; Shu and Tefnut
References and further reading:
F. T. Miosi. “Some Aspects of Geb in the Pyramid Texts.” Bulletin of the
Egyptology Seminar 10 (1989/90): 101–107.
H. te Velde. “Geb.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie II. Wiesbaden: 1977, 427–429 (in
English).
Primary sources:
PT 356, 592; CT 80, 515; BD 181, 185; BHC; BOE; BofNut; Ismailia Naos
HAND OF ATUM
The female element or partner of the creator deity, often identified as the goddesses
Iusaas or Hathor Nebet-hetepet, was referred to as the Hand of Atum.
See also Atum; Hathor
HAPY (HAPI)
A deity or group of deities who embodied the life-giving power of the inundation,
Hapy was usually depicted as a very fat man with pendulous breasts and
blue or green skin. Though Egypt was totally dependent on the annual Nile
flood, the inundation god was not a high-ranking deity.
The river Nile was thought of as flowing out of the primeval waters (the
nun) that continued to encircle the world. Hymns and spells credit the creator
with making the Nile rise each year so that the fields of Egypt could be irrigated.
The flood was said to come from two caverns that were imprints of the
creator’s sandals. The god Khnum was in charge of these “secret caverns of
Hapy.”
The potentially destructive aspect of the flood could be embodied by the
solar lioness known as the Distant Goddess. The powers of the flood to irrigate
and fertilize the Nile valley were represented by Hapy. For this reason, Hapy
has been called a “fecundity figure” rather than a Nile god. Some Egyptologists
interpret Hapy as an androgynous deity, whereas others see his peculiar body
shape as signifying abundance. Hapy can appear as a single deity but is most of-
136 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
ten shown in pairs or groups. Temples were often decorated with rows of fecundity
figures carrying the produce of each district of Egypt.
Hymns to Hapy point out that every aspect of Egyptian life was dependent
on the food that he brought. All creatures are said to rejoice at his arrival: frogs
croak, bulls bellow, and crocodiles roar. Hapy is called the Lord of Fishes, the
one “who greens the Two Banks,” and “the maker of barley and wheat.” Hapy’s
life-giving waters were also credited with a role in reviving the murdered god
Osiris, who came back each year with the barley.
See also Heqet; Khnum; Nun; Osiris; Sons of Horus
References and further reading:
J. Baines. Fecundity Figures. Warminster, England: 1985.
J. Lindsay. Men and Gods on the Roman Nile. London: 1968, chaps. 3, 6, 17.
Primary sources:
CT 317–321; Hapy hymns; Famine stela
HATHOR (H.WT-H. R)
Hathor was the golden goddess who helped women to give birth, the dead to be
reborn, and the cosmos to be renewed. This complex deity could function as the
mother, consort, and daughter of the creator sun god. Many lesser goddesses
came to be regarded as “names” of Hathor in her contrasting benevolent and destructive
aspects. She was most commonly shown as a beautiful woman wearing
a red solar disk between a pair of cow’s horns.
Hathor’s name means “domain (or mansion) of Horus,” which may make
her the original mother of the celestial falcon. In the Pyramid Texts, the domain
of Horus was a special part of the sky where the dead king would be rejuvenated.
As Lady of the Stars, Hathor was associated with the nocturnal sky. As
the Eye of Ra, she could be identified with the solar disk or the morning or
evening star (Venus). By the Greco-Roman Period, Hathor was honored as a
moon deity. She was the goddess of all precious metals, gemstones, and materials
that shared the radiant qualities of celestial bodies, such as gold, silver, copper,
turquoise, lapis-lazuli, and faience.
In Pyramid Texts spell 406, the Eye of Ra (here the solar disk) is “upon the
horns of Hathor.” This seems to be an early reference to the myth of the sun
god being lifted up into the heavens on the head of the celestial cow. Another
divine cow, Mehet-Weret, who was often regarded as a primeval form of Hathor,
had given birth to the sun god and lifted him above the primeval waters. Hathor
could also be identified with the alternative image of the primeval lotus from
which the sun child emerged in the first dawn. She could be worshipped as the
“mother” of all child gods, such as Nefertem, Ihy, and Harsomatus, whose birth
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 137
was a celebration of the ability of the cosmos to renew itself. Horus performed a
similar function for kingship, and Hathor was often shown as a cow maternally
protecting the youthful Horus-king inside a papyrus thicket. The power to rule
entered Horus with the milk of Hathor.
By giving birth to the sun child, Hathor became her own mother (or grandmother)
since she traditionally came into being as the Eye of Ra, the adult form
of the sun god. The Eye of Ra was often described as “the Daughter of Ra who
protects her father.” Hathor was called the Foremost One in the Barque of
Millions because she stood in the prow of the solar barque leading its defense
against the chaos serpent Apophis. Ra sent his Eye to punish the rebellious descendants
of the humans who had been created from the tears of the Eye (see
“The Creation of Humanity” and “The Destruction of Humanity” under
“Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). In her savage lion form, the Eye had
to be rendered drunk before she could return to the heavens as beautiful, gracious
Hathor.
The Distant Goddess who abandoned Ra to live in feline form in the deserts
beyond Egypt could also be named as Hathor. This identification came relatively
late, but Hathor had long been regarded as the goddess of foreign lands and their
products. When the Distant Goddess returned, she brought the inundation with
her, but she had to be pacified with music, dancing, feasting, and drunkenness.
This was the mythical justification for the wild, ecstatic elements in Hathor’s
cult. It was proper for the whole of creation to rejoice when Hathor appeared
again in all her radiant beauty and joined forces with her father.
The union of Hathor and the creator could be thought of in sexual terms or,
more abstractly, as a merging of the creator with his own active power. Hathor
was the goddess who personified both the hand that made Atum ejaculate and
the divine “seed” itself. As the female creative principle, she could be the most
seductive and alluring of deities. This erotic side of her nature made Hathor the
patroness of lovers in Egyptian poetry and justified the Greeks in identifying her
with Aphrodite.
In the Contendings of Horus and Seth, the sun god Pre (Ra) becomes angry
when he is insulted by the baboon god Babi and lies down on his back. This implies
that the creator sun god was sinking back into the inert state that would
mean the end of the world. Hathor, Lady of the Southern Sycamore, visits her
father Pre and shows him her genitals. He immediately laughs, gets up, and
goes back to administering maat (justice). Hathor has aroused the sun god and
driven away his evil mood.
The Underworld Books present Ra and his daughter in less human terms.
As the goddess of the West, Hathor welcomes the setting sun into her outstretched
arms. For both gods and people, Hathor eased the transition from
138 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
death to new life. The time and manner of a person’s death was decreed by a
sevenfold form of Hathor. As Lady of the Necropolis, she opened the gates of
the underworld. As a tree goddess, she revived the newly dead with shade, air,
water, and food. The spirits of the dead could imbibe eternal life from the milk
of the seven Hathor cows.
The Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead have spells to help the deceased
live forever as a follower of Hathor. In a Late Period story, Hathor rules the underworld,
emerging to punish those who behave unjustly on earth. By the
Greco-Roman Period, dead women in the afterlife identified themselves with
Hathor instead of Osiris. It was only after Isis took over many of her attributes
that Hathor lost her place as the most important of Egyptian goddesses.
See also Cattle; Eye of Ra; Eyes of Horus; Feline Deities; Hippopotamus
Goddesses; Horus; Horus the Child; Lotus; Mehet-Weret; Sekhmet; Shu and
Tefnut; Snakes
References and further reading:
P. Derchain. Hathor Quadrifons. Istanbul: 1972.
B. Lesko. “Hathor, Goddess of Love.” In The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman,
OK: 1999, 81–129.
G. Pinch. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford: 1994.
Primary sources:
PT 303, 534, 705; CT 334, 482–484, 497–500, 588; BD 39, 103, 170; Ad; BHC; H&S;
PV; Edfu calendar; Dendara calendar; P. Carlsberg 180
HATMEHYT
Hatmehyt was a Delta goddess shown as a woman with a dolphin or a schilbe
fish on her head.
See also Banebdjedet
HEH GODS
The Heh gods were the gods of twilight who helped Shu to support the sky. A
single Heh god was the hieroglyphic sign for “millions of years” or infinity.
See also Baboons; Ogdoad of Hermopolis; Shu and Tefnut
HEKA (HIKA)
Heka was the god of magic as a creative force.
See also Sia and Hu
HEQET (HEQAT, HEKAT)
Heqet was a frog goddess who helped women to give birth and the dead to be reborn.
The knife-wielding frogs shown on ivory wands are probably Heqet in her
role as defender of women and children. Heqet, Mistress of Joy, was among the
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 139
followers of the inundation god
Hapy when he brought new life
to Egypt each year. The Roman
writer Pliny the Elder noted an
Egyptian belief that frogs were
spontaneously generated from
the mud left by the receding Nile
flood. Heqet came to be worshipped
as a goddess of the
primeval slime who gave birth to
the sun god.
Heqet was regarded as the
female counterpart of the creator
god Khnum, and the two are
linked in a Middle Kingdom
royal-birth myth. The sun god
Ra sends a group of deities to
assist a woman called Ruddedet
giving birth to three children
who are destined to be kings.
Four goddesses—Isis, Nephthys,
Meskhenet, and Heqet—disguise
themselves as dancing girls while
Khnum pretends to be their servant.
At the house of Ruddedet,
her distraught husband asks
them for help because his wife’s labor is so painful and difficult. The deities
lock themselves in the room with Ruddedet, and Heqet “hastens the birth” of
the royal triplets. Isis names the children, Meskhenet predicts their fate, and
Khnum makes them strong and healthy. The deities create three crowns for the
triplets and hide them in a sack of barley before returning to the divine realm.
The story implies that the children were sired by Ra, and they grow up to be the
sun-worshipping kings of the Fifth Dynasty.
In New Kingdom royal-birth myths, Heqet gives life to the body and ka of
the royal infant shaped on the potter’s wheel of Khnum. In temples of the first
millennium BCE, Heqet is shown assisting goddesses give birth to divine children.
At Abydos, Heqet was revered for helping Isis bring Horus into the world
and for assisting the murdered god Osiris to be reborn. All Egyptians hoped that
after they died Heqet would act as a divine midwife at their rebirth.
See also Khnum; Ogdoad of Hermopolis

References and further reading:
J. D. Cooney and W. K. Simpson. “An Early Dynastic Statue of the Goddess
Heqat.” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Arts 63 (1976).
Primary sources:
PT 539; CT 175, 258; P. Westcar; RBM; Hapy hymns
HERYSHEF (ARSAPHES, HARSAPHES)
Heryshef was a ram god who was the local deity of the important town of
Herakleopolis Magna (Hnes). His name means “he who is upon his lake.” From
early times Heryshef was worshipped as a creator god rising out of the nun. Like
some other ram gods, he could be regarded as a manifestation of Osiris.
The Coffin Texts refer to Heryshef as Lord of Blood and Butchery. He is
shown on ivory wands among the fearsome deities who can act as magical protectors.
During the first millennium BCE, Heryshef was revered as a cosmic deity
whose eyes were the sun and the moon.
In one text, Osiris-Heryshef is crowned king at Herakleopolis. He sits on
the throne of Ra to receive the homage of all the other deities. Even his rival,
Seth, bows down to him, though it makes his nose bleed with rage. Osiris-
Heryshef falls ill because he cannot control the power of the headdress of Ra,
and his head swells painfully. Ra cures him by letting out the pus and blood,
and this is said to be the origin of the famous sacred lake at Herakleopolis.
A fragmentary New Kingdom tale has Heryshef appear to the hero Meryra
to ask for his help in a fight against a divine falcon. In a later text, an Egyptian
priest living among the Persians claims to have been summoned back to Egypt
by a dream-vision of Heryshef. The priest credits Heryshef with helping
Alexander the Great to conquer the Persians. When the Greeks settled in Egypt,
they identified Heryshef with their deified hero Herakles (Hercules).
See also Banebdjedet; Osiris
References and further reading:
H. Kees. “Heracleopolis and the Fayum.” In Ancient Egypt: A Cultural
Topography. London: 1961, 212–230.
Primary sources:
CT 420; BD 175; Stela of Somtutefnakht
HIPPOPOTAMUS GODDESSES
The male hippopotamus was feared by the Egyptians as a destructive force, but
the female hippopotamus was respected as a fierce protector of her young and
the embodiment of the life-giving power of water. Several hippopotamus goddesses
are known, such as Ipet (Opet), Reret, and Taweret (Taurt, Thoeris), but
they are probably just aspects of the same goddess. This goddess could also
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 141
manifest herself in dual or group forms. As Taweret (the Great One) she was
usually shown with a combination of hippopotamus, lion, crocodile, and human
features. This monstrous form was a popular type of amulet for 2,000 years
and passed into other cultures as a protective genie.
The Egyptians saw hippopotami as water pigs rather than water horses, so
Reret means “the sow.” This provides a link with the sky goddess Nut, who
also had a sow form. All manifestations of the hippopotamus goddess were associated
with the watery regions of the sky, the earth, and the underworld. She
was sometimes equated with Hathor Mehet-Weret, the cow goddess who represented
the fertile aspect of the primeval waters (the nun). Mehet-Weret, Nut,
and the hippopotamus goddess could all be thought of as giving birth to the creator
sun god. In the secret crypts of the Temple of Ipet at Karnak, the hippopotamus
goddess was said to give birth to a solar form of Osiris who rose again as
Amun-Ra. In the Pyramid Texts, the reborn king is nourished by the sweet milk
of Ipy (Ipet). During the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Periods,
model hippopotami decorated with marsh flora were placed in tombs and temples.
These may represent Ipet or Taweret as the goddess of the primeval marsh
where all life began and the dead hoped to be reborn. The full breasts and belly
on composite figures of Taweret are probably those of the inundation god Hapy,
rather than those of a pregnant woman. By the New Kingdom, Taweret
“Mistress of Pure Water” purified, revived, and nourished the dead. The annual
Nile flood performed a similar service for the land of Egypt. A group of Reret
goddesses were among the exotic beings who celebrated the return of the
Distant Goddess who brought the inundation with her. In some versions of this
myth the returning solar lioness can be transformed into a hippopotamus goddess
when she reaches the marshy boundaries of Egypt.
Images on hippopotamus-ivory wands of the second millennium BCE may
allude to this myth and its aftermath when the goddess gives birth to a divine
child who is destined to rule. Taweret is shown among other “fighters” savaging
foreign captives, brandishing knives or torches, or holding the sa symbol
of protection (see Figure 30). Her role as protector of the divine child is repeated
in later temple reliefs showing the birth and upbringing of kings and gods. She
usually appears in the birth chamber with the lion-dwarf Bes. On a magical
stela, Isis tells her son Horus that “a sow and a dwarf” were the protectors of
his infant body. By the Ptolemaic Period, Taweret had the title Lady of the Birth
House. Even great goddesses such as Hathor, Mut, and Isis sometimes took the
grotesque form of the Great One when they acted as saviors of the innocent.
The guilty, however, could expect no mercy from hippopotamus goddesses.
The female monster Ammut who devoured the souls of those who failed the
judgment of Osiris was a mixture of hippopotamus, lion, and crocodile. In the
142 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Hippopotamus constellation shown in Egyptian sky maps, Taweret and other
ferocious deities eternally stand guard over Seth’s evil bull form. This stellar
role may lie behind Plutarch’s statement that Thoeris (Taweret) was a concubine
of Seth who deserted him to fight on behalf of his rival Horus.
See also Bes and Beset; Eye of Ra; Hapy; Mehet-Weret; Seth; Stars and Planets
References and further reading:
I. Nagy. “La statue de Thouéris au Caire (CG 39145) et la légende de la dèsse lointaine.”
In The Intellectual Heritage of Ancient Egypt, edited by U. Luft. Studia
Aegyptica 14. Budapest: 1992, 449–456.
M. Verner. “A Statue of Tweret (Cairo Museum no. 39145) Dedicated by Pabesi and
Several Remarks on the Role of the Hippopotamus Goddess.” Zeitschrift für
Ägyptische Sprache und Alterumskunde 96 (1969): 52–63
Primary sources:
PT 269; BD 137, 186; Medamud hymn; Astronomical ceilings; Metternich Stela;
I&O 19
HOREMAKHET (HARMACHIS)
Horemakhet was Horus in the Horizon, a solar form of the celestial falcon.
See under Horus; Sphinx
HORUS (HOR)
Horus was the celestial falcon and the embodiment of kingship. The conflict
between Horus and Seth, the Two Lords, was an enduring theme in Egyptian
myth. The name Horus probably means the “Distant One.” Two main forms of
Horus appear in the sources. These are sometimes regarded as separate gods, belonging
to different epochs, and sometimes as aspects of the same deity. Horus
the Great or Horus the Elder (Harwer/Haroeris) was a primeval being who initiated
creation. As Lord of the Sky, his wings spanned the heavens, and his eyes
were the sun and the moon. This Horus is the son of a sky goddess, either Nut
or Hathor. Horus the Younger was the son of Isis who grew up to avenge his
murdered father, Osiris, and take his place as ruler of Egypt. He was usually
shown as a falcon-headed man. Each king of Egypt was acclaimed as a “living
Horus.”
Egypt’s earliest kings were shown as hawks preying on their enemies. Many
Egyptian deities could be represented by birds of the hawk family. The cults of
some of these gods, such as Nekheny of Hierakonpolis and Khenty-Khety of
Athribis, were gradually assimilated with that of Horus. One of the earliest divine
images known from Egypt is that of a falcon in a barque. This probably represents
Horus as a star or planet crossing the Winding Waterway of the sky.
Later texts paint a dazzling picture of the One of Dappled Plumage who opened
his eyes to dispel darkness and chaos.

Like other primeval deities, the celestial falcon coalesced with the creator
sun god. He then became Ra-Horakhty (Ra-Horus of the Double Horizon) who
triumphed over his enemies to rise in the east. The union of these two powers
could be symbolized by a falcon crowned with a sun disk or a sun disk with falcon’s
wings. When a king appeared to his subjects, it was compared with the
glorious rising of Horemakhet (Horus in the Horizon). The Two Lords, Horus
and Seth, were either named as brothers or as nephew and uncle. Many theories
have been advanced to explain the origins of their combat, from memories of an
ancient civil war to observations of storms or astronomical phenomena. When
the combatants are Horus the Elder, the celestial falcon, and Seth, the chaotic
god of storms, the conflict seems to belong to the primeval age when opposing
elements had to come together to create the divine order.
The necessity of Horus and Seth being reconciled is stressed in many
sources. One of the key images of royal art was Horus the Uniter and Seth tying
together the heraldic plants of Upper and Lower Egypt to symbolize the union
of the Two Lands into one perfect kingdom. The figure of Seth is sometimes re-
144 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 31. Horus and Isis triumph over the Seth hippopotamus before the gods. Ptolemaic Relief
depicting the Festival of Victory in the temple of Horus at Edfu. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
placed by Thoth, an indication that Seth’s role as the slayer of Osiris could not
always be overlooked. When the great conflict is presented as a dynastic feud
between young Horus and his usurper uncle, Horus must triumph and Seth
must be punished so that justice and kingship can be established for humanity.
Harsiese (Horus, son of Isis) was destined to be king from the moment of
conception. His epithet, “Horus who is upon the papyrus,” alludes to the myth
that Isis hid the infant Horus in the papyrus thickets of Akh-bit (Chemmis), an
island among the marshes. This “nest of Horus” was guarded by divine beings
such as cow and scorpion goddesses. The young Horus grew up to become “the
Pillar of his Mother” and the “Avenger of his Father.” Advised by Isis, Horus
fought Seth in many different ways. He turned Seth’s sexual aggression to his
own advantage and overcame the temporary loss of the power inherent in his eye
(see “The Struggles of Horus and Seth” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time
Lines”). Horus argued his father’s case before the Divine Tribunal led by Geb or
the sun god Ra. Osiris is granted sovereignty over the dead and Horus over the
living. Horus, the devoted son, becomes the prototype for all funerary priests
when he performs a series of rituals to “raise up” Osiris. He also becomes an intermediary
between the worlds of the living and the dead. Horus is shown in the
Book of the Dead presenting deceased souls before the throne of Osiris.
The reign of Horus as king of Egypt was considered the model for all subsequent
reigns. The semidivine kings who came after him in mythical history
were called the Followers of Horus. In a few magical texts a scorpion goddess
called Ta-Bitjet is called the wife of Horus. A passage in the Coffin Texts makes
Horus the Elder and his sister, Isis, the parents of the four protective deities
known as the Sons of Horus. A festival at Edfu temple celebrated the “Beautiful
Union” between Horus and Hathor, Lady of Dendara. Here, Horus is an aspect
of the sun god uniting with the goddess who was his mother, his consort, and
his daughter to renew the cosmos.
Texts and scenes at Edfu illustrate the diversity of myths centered on
Horus. A mythical history of the temple relates how two mysterious beings
subdued the primeval swamp by cutting down reeds. When they stuck a reed in
the ground, it became a perch for the celestial falcon. The reed hut built to
house the falcon was said to be the center of the world and the first temple. In
the Legend of the Winged Disk, Horus (the Distant One) takes the role usually
given to the Distant Goddess and transforms himself into a fiery disk to blind
and destroy the sun god’s enemies. In the ritual drama known as the Triumph of
Horus, Horus, son of Isis, harpoons Seth in hippopotamus form. After a series of
battles by land and water, he drives Seth and his followers out of Egypt, just as
Egyptian kings hoped to drive out foreign invaders.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 145
See also Birds; Cattle; Djed Pillar; Eyes of Horus; Hathor; Horus the Child; Isis;
Kings and Princes; Min; Osiris; Serqet; Seth; Sons of Horus; Sopdu; Stars and
Planets
References and further reading:
H. Frankfort. Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as
the Integration of Society and Nature. Chicago: 1948, 36–50.
J. G. Griffiths. The Conflict of Horus and Seth from Egyptian and Classical
Sources. Liverpool: 1960.
B. Watterson. The House of Horus at Edfu. Stroud, England: 1998.
Primary sources:
PT 364, 540, 670; CT 148; RDP; BD 17, 78, 185a; H&S; Solar hymns; HMP; PJ;
Triumph of Horus; LWD; Edfu cosmology
HORUS THE CHILD (HARPOKRATES, HARPOCRATES)
The posthumous son of the murdered Osiris by his sister-wife Isis was known
as Horus the Child. The Egyptian phrase Hor pa khered (“Horus the Child”)
was transliterated by the Greeks as Harpokrates. In Egyptian art little boys were
traditionally shown naked, with a shaven head and one plaited sidelock of hair,
so this is how Horus the Child appears. He was the most important of the child
gods who formed the third member of divine triads in many temples. Such
child gods had two main functions in Egyptian myth and iconography. The first
was to symbolize the renewal of the cosmos. The second was to overcome the
wild creatures who threatened the cosmic order. In both roles, child gods could
be interchangeable with dwarf gods.
The pregnancy of Isis was said to have been unusually long and her labor
painful and hard. Isis had to hide her infant in the papyrus thickets of the Delta
to preserve him from Seth, the killer of Osiris. This mirrored an earlier mythical
event: the emergence of the sun child in the lotus who had to be protected
from the monstrous inhabitants of the waters of chaos by a primeval goddess.
The sun child was destined to begin the work of creation during the first sunrise,
and the Horus child was destined to establish the divine order on earth
when he grew up to be Egypt’s rightful king. Both children were powerful symbols
of hope for the future, and imagery passed freely between them.
A spell in the Pyramid Texts for repelling snakes refers to Horus, “the infant
with a finger in his mouth.” Egyptian kings were closely identified with
the infant and youthful stages of the life cycle of Horus. Pepy II (c. 2278–2184
BCE) seems to have been the first king to be shown as the Horus child, either
squatting naked with his finger to his lips or sitting on his mother’s lap.
Powerful rulers of the Middle and New Kingdoms acknowledged their dependence
on the gods by depicting themselves as the young Horus suckling from
146 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
the divine cow in the papyrus thicket. During the first millennium BCE, child
gods were often shown seated on the lap of a divine mother who could be identified
with many different goddesses. At Dendara, Ihy and Harsomatus (“Horus,
Uniter of the Two Lands”) were children of Hathor. At Medamud, Horus the
Child was the son of the solar goddess Raet-tawy. Such child gods had to propitiate
or overcome their terrifying mothers before they could assume power in
their own right.
The more forceful aspect of these child gods could be represented by a form
of Horus known as Shed (the Savior). He appeared on stelae of the late New
Kingdom dressed as a prince who vanquished dangerous animals with his bow or
curved sword. This was a forerunner of the type of magical stela known as a cippus.
On these, the naked Horus child tramples on crocodiles and squeezes the
life out of other dangerous creatures such as snakes, lions, and antelopes (see
Figure 16). When the Greeks saw such objects, they identified Horus the
Child/Harpokrates with the infant Herakles (Hercules) who strangled two
snakes that attacked him in his cradle. In the Roman Period, Harpokrates became
a popular amuletic symbol, often carved on magical gems. He was revered
as a god of dawn, which was thought to be the most effective time to perform
magical spells.
Plutarch (c. 46–126 CE) thought that Harpokrates was a second son of Isis
who had been born prematurely with deformed legs. The Horus figures on
cippi often have a body that resembles that of the bandy-legged dwarf god Bes.
A mask of Bes is found on most cippi, and Horus the Child seems to have
taken over Bes’s role as one who drove off demons and protected women and
children. In spite of the triumphant visual image of the Horus child overcoming
chaotic animals, the texts on cippi and magical statues usually describe
how Horus was poisoned by a snake or a scorpion. His mother, Isis, has to use
her magic or call on the power of the creator sun god to heal him. The healing
of Horus the Child came to represent a promise by the gods to take care of suffering
humanity.
See also Bes and Beset; Cattle; Hathor; Horus; Lotus; Mehet-Weret; Ra; Shai; Serqet
References and further reading:
D. Meeks. “Harpokrates.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie II. Wiesbaden: 1977,
1004–1011 (in French).
K. C. Seele. “Oriental Institute Museum Notes: Horus on the Crocodiles.” Journal
of Near Eastern Studies 5 (1947): 43–53.
Primary sources:
PT 378; RBM; PPB 10059; Metternich Stela; Magical statue texts; I&O 19
HU
See Sia and Hu

IHY
Ihy was a child god who played the sistrum to propitiate his mother, Hathor.
See also Hathor; Horus the Child; Lotus
IMHOTEP (IMOUTHES)
Imhotep was a high official of the twenty-seventh century BCE who was later deified
as a god of knowledge and healing. Imhotep is mentioned in a Middle
Kingdom text as one of the sages whose memory lives on through their writings.
He became a role model for scribes and was credited with the invention of
architecture in stone. Imhotep was usually represented as a man in priestly costume
with an open book-scroll on his lap.
In the Late Period, a mythology grew up to explain Imhotep’s extraordinary
talents. His mother, Kheredankhw (Kherduankh), described in one text as a
beautiful singer, was said to have conceived Imhotep by the god Ptah. Son of
Ptah became a standard epithet for Imhotep, though normally only kings were
called “sons” of gods. By the Ptolemaic Period, Kheredankhw is occasionally referred
to as a daughter of Banebdjedet, the ram god of Mendes. There was probably
a story cycle about Imhotep’s birth that is now lost. An inscription from
148 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 32. The ritual of ‘cutting up the hippopotamus’ at Edfu. The figure holding a book scroll
may represent a priest playing the role of Imhotep. (Courtesy of Richard Pinch)
Saqqara gives the main events of Imhotep’s story as: his birth; being presented
as a child to his father, Ptah, and his divine stepmother, Sekhmet; defeating the
Asiatics with the help of Sekhmet; his death and mummification; and his appearance
as a god.
The Greeks identified Imhotep with their god of medicine, Asclepius. The
supposed tomb of Imhotep in the desert near Memphis and a nearby temple, the
Asklepion, became places of pilgrimage for sick people and childless couples.
Hippocrates, the founder of Greek medicine, is said to have been inspired by
books kept in the temple of Imhotep at Memphis. Priests of Imhotep were consulted
about the meaning of dreams. Imhotep was said to appear to dreamers as
a shining human figure or as a scarab. In a story inscribed on a Ptolemaic stela,
it is not clear whether it is Imhotep himself or a priest of Imhotep who interprets
King Djoser’s dream of seven fat and seven thin cattle and discovers the
origins of the Nile.
Imhotep remained a popular deity in the Roman Period. A surviving fragment
from a story cycle has Imhotep use magic to defeat an Assyrian queen.
His association with architecture was remembered by calling him the skillfulfingered
one “who fixed the plans of the mansions of the gods.” The philosophical
text known as the Asclepius is a dialogue between Imhotep/Asclepius and
Thoth/Hermes about the secrets of the universe. Three thousand years after his
death, Imhotep was still celebrated as the embodiment of Egyptian wisdom.
See also Khnum; Magicians; Ptah
References and further reading:
D. J. Thompson. Memphis under the Ptolemies. Princeton: 1988, 24–25, 205,
209–211.
D. Wildung. Egyptian Saints: Deification in Pharaonic Egypt. New York: 1977.
Primary sources:
Famine stela; Imhotep hymn; Asclepius
IPET (OPET)
Ipet was a goddess who mothered the king and Osiris.
See also Hippopotamus Goddesses
ISIS
The protective mother of Horus and the loyal wife of Osiris, Isis was part of the
fourth generation in the Ennead of Heliopolis: the children of Geb and Nut. She
was most commonly shown as a woman wearing the throne symbol that helps
to write her name. As the “throne goddess,” she was the mother of each
Egyptian king. Her maternal tenderness eventually included all humanity, and
Isis became more widely worshipped than any other Egyptian deity.

It is not clear whether Isis featured in the earliest myths about Osiris and
Horus. At some important cult centers of Osiris, such as Abydos, her role was a
marginal one until the New Kingdom. By that era, Osiris, Isis, and Horus had developed
into a true divine family, if a markedly dysfunctional one. The kind of
unselfish love that Isis displays toward Osiris and Horus is rare in Egyptian myth.
The Pyramid Texts do allude to Isis searching Egypt for the body of Osiris
after he had been struck down by his brother Seth. Some of the spells promise
that Isis will save the dead king’s body from putrefaction or reassemble his scattered
bones, just as she had the corpse of Osiris. Isis and her sister, Nephthys,
kept a long vigil over the restored corpse and became the prototypes for all
mourners. A New Kingdom hymn tells of Isis using spoken magic to drive away
“the disturber” (Seth) and protect her husband’s body. Like the creator deity
Atum, she is able to produce life without an active partner. She stimulates the
“inertness” of Osiris and takes his seed into her body to conceive a son.
An earlier version of this event in Coffin Texts spell 148 has Horus conceived
by a flash of divine fire. Isis knows at once that she is carrying a son who
will overcome Seth. She hides Horus in the marshes of Chemmis and brings
him up to avenge his father. The conflicting ties of love and kinship suffered by
Isis are described in the New Kingdom narrative, the Contendings of Horus and
Seth. Isis intervenes when Horus and Seth fight in the form of hippopotami. She
stabs Seth with her magical harpoon but spares him when he reminds her that
150 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 33. Isis in human and bird form mourns her husband Osiris and brings his body back to
life. Line drawing of reliefs in the Temple of Hibis. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
they are brother and sister. Angered by this betrayal, Horus cuts his mother’s
head off. It takes more than this to kill Isis. The gods give her a new head,
sometimes that of a cow.
By contrast, most sources of the first millennium BCE make Isis the implacable
enemy of Seth. She takes many forms to lure, hunt down, and destroy
Seth and his followers. The joy of Isis when the Divine Tribunal finally made
Horus king became proverbial. The myth that Horus repaid his mother by raping
her seems strange, but each king had to take possession of the throne goddess
and beget a repeat of himself.
Magical and literary texts stress the cunning and determination of Isis. As
Weret-Hekau (the Great of Magic) she could be shown as a cobra suckling and
protecting kings. She was “cleverer than millions of gods” and a better guardian
of Egypt’s borders “than millions of soldiers.” In the Contendings of Horus and
Seth, Isis transforms herself into an old woman to fool the divine ferryman and
a young girl to trick Seth into making damaging admissions. In the story known
as the True Name of Ra (see “Period of Direct Rule by the Creator Sun God”
under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”), Isis is able to turn the sun
god’s own power against him to get what she wants. In several dramatic spells
Isis is reimagined as an ordinary woman forced to leave her child alone in the
marshes while she begs for food. When Horus is poisoned, she stops the
progress of the solar barque across the heavens until he is cured.
By the later New Kingdom, Isis was often shown in the solar barque with
Ra. This was one of the roles she took over from the goddess Hathor. The cult
of Isis became more and more prominent during the first millennium BCE. She
began to be honored as the goddess of the sea, responsible for bringing ships
safely to harbor. The Greeks identified Isis with Demeter, the harvest goddess
who perpetually searched for a lost child. In her stellar form of Sopdet/Sothis,
Isis had always been linked with the coming of the inundation that made the
harvest possible. She was now credited with inventing agriculture and all manner
of useful crafts and institutions.
According to hymns of the Greco-Roman Period, it was Isis who made the
world and decreed that men should love women and children should love their
parents. All other goddesses became merely “names” of Isis. In his book
“Concerning Isis and Osiris,” Plutarch suggested that the all-powerful Isis allowed
herself to be portrayed as a woman of sorrows to console suffering humanity.
This, and her promise to believers of a happy afterlife, made the Isis
cult the closest rival to Christianity in the early centuries of the first millennium
CE.
See also Anti; Birds; Cattle; Eyes of Horus; Horus; Horus the Child; Min;
Nephthys; Osiris; Stars and Planets
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 151
References and further reading:
C. J. Bleeker. “Isis as a Saviour-Goddess.” In The Saviour God, edited by S. G. F.
Brandon. Manchester: 1963, 1–16.
B. S. Lesko. “Isis, Great of Magic.” In The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman, OK:
1999, 155–202.
R. E. Wit. Isis in the Graeco-Roman World. Ithaca, NY: 1971.
Primary sources:
PT 482, 535; CT 74, 148; BD 15, 151; Amenmose stela; H&S; True Name; HMP;
PBM 9997 + 1039; PJ; Magical statue texts; Metternich Stela; Isis hymns;
Triumph of Horus; Lamentations; I&O
IUSAAS
Iusaas was a female counterpart of Atum, shown as a woman with a scarab on
her head.
See also Atum; Hand of Atum
KHENTAMENTIU (KHENTAMENTI)
Khentamentiu was the Foremost of the Westerners, a funerary god who came to
be regarded as an aspect of Osiris.
KHENTY-KHETY
Khenty-Khety was a creator deity who came to be regarded as a form of Horus.
KHEPRI (KHEPRY, KHOPRI)
The dawn manifestation of the sun god; usually shown as a scarab beetle,
Khepri was one of the four main forms of the sun god, Ra. His name derives
from the Ancient Egyptian word kheper meaning “to become” or “to be transformed.”
Kheperu were changes or transformations, and Khepri was the one
who transformed or “created himself.”
Khepri appears as an irridescent beetle, a beetle-headed hawk, or a beetleheaded
man seated on a throne. The scarab beetle’s habit of pushing a large ball
of dung was transformed into the image of a giant beetle pushing the sun and
other celestial bodies across the sky. Young beetles hatch out of buried dung
balls and fly off. Their apparently miraculous emergence from the ground may
have given rise to the idea of Khepri as a self-generated deity.
As early as the Pyramid Texts, Khepri is given as one of the names of the
sun god. He is addressed as “the shining one” and the one “who is in the nun.”
Khepri was linked with the creative power of the heart and identified with the
infant sun god who began creation by rising out of the primeval waters or the
primeval lotus.
152 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
The miracle of that first sunrise was repeated every day. In the myth, the
True Name of Ra, the wounded sun god tells Isis that he is “Khepri in the
morning, Ra at noon, Atum in the evening.” Khepri, the young sun of dawn, often
formed a pair with Ra-Atum, the old sun of evening. The Night Boat of the
sun was associated with Atum and the Day Boat with Khepri. At Heliopolis,
Atum-Khepri was worshipped as one god who daily underwent a series of transformations.
In the Book of What Is in the Underworld, the corpse of Khepri is
divided and buried during the night, but he rises again triumphantly at dawn.
Human life was seen as a series of kheperu, such as child into adult or old
person into corpse. Khepri could help the final transformation from mummy to
akh (transfigured spirit). In the Book of the Dead, Khepri is invoked to overcome
the intense fear of putrefaction. The deceased declares that his corpse will
not decay because “I am Khepri. My body parts will continue to exist.” This
promise of a permanently renewable life after death made the scarab form of
Khepri the most popular of all Egyptian symbols. Millions of scarabs were made
as amulets over a period of 2,500 years.
Khepri had no temples of his own, but giant stone scarabs were set up in
some temple complexes. The famous example by the sacred lake at Karnak is
close to an underground chapel that represented the Duat (the Underworld). In a
very secret ritual, the cult image of Amun-Ra would descend into this chapel
and return transformed into Khepri, “who emerges from the earth.” This Khepri
statue has generated its own mythology. Local women touch it when they hope
to conceive, and tourists are told that the statue has the power to make wishes
come true if you walk round it three times.
See also Atum; Boats; Lotus; Ra
References and further reading:
J. Bergman. “Ancient Egyptian Theogony in a Greek Magical Papyrus.” In Studies
in Egyptian Religion Dedicated to Professor Jan Zandee, edited by M. Heema
Van Voss et al. Leiden: 1982, 28–37.
D. Meeks and C. Favard-Meeks. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Translated by G.
M. Goshgarian. London: 1997, 54–55, 159, 195.
Primary sources:
PT 587; BD 83, 153b–154; Ad; Solar hymns; True Name; PGM VII
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KHNUM (CHNUM)
The god Khnum was usually shown as a man with the head of a long-horned
ram. He was thought to control the Nile inundation, and he embodied the dangerous
but life-giving power of this annual flood. As a creator deity, Khnum
shaped people and animals on his potter’s wheel and put life and health into
their bodies. He was sometimes paired with the frog goddess, Heqet, but in his
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 153
main temple on the island of Elephantine at Aswan, Khnum formed a triad with
the goddesses Satet and Anuket.
Khnum was one of the chief deities of the First Cataract, an area of rocky
rapids on the southern border of Egypt. An inscribed stela found on one of the
small islands in this region of the Nile relates an interesting tradition about
Khnum. The inscription purports to be a decree of King Djoser (c. 2667–2648
BCE) but was actually composed about 2,500 years after his reign. It tells how
Egypt suffered seven terrible years of famine, because the Nile did not rise high
enough to flood the agricultural land. Djoser summoned the wisest of the
priests who could read the sacred books and ordered him to discover the source
of the inundation. The priest consulted ancient books and discovered that the
inundation came from twin caverns under the island of Elephantine. He told
the king that only the god Khnum had the power to unbolt the doors and release
the flood from these caverns. Djoser hastily made offerings to the deities
of Elephantine. Then Khnum “the maker of every body” appeared to the king in
a dream and promised to let the flood gush again so that the years of hunger
would be ended.
It was probably the fertile mud spread by the inundation that Khnum was
thought to use as a “potter god.” In the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts he
mainly seems to make objects, such as boats. One story set in the Old Kingdom
tells how Khnum was one of a group of deities who visited Egypt in disguise to
assist at the birth of three children destined to be kings. Khnum’s particular role
was to make their bodies healthy. Later texts and scenes that describe the conception
and birth of divine kings show Khnum making the royal body and its ka
or double on his potter’s wheel. This seems to be taking place in the celestial
realm as a necessary prelude to the king’s physical birth.
In temples of the first millennium BCE, the births of gods were celebrated in
similar scenes. Khnum creates and animates the physical forms of these baby
gods, starting with shaping the egg in the womb. At the Roman Period temple
of Esna, Khnum’s role as maker of bodies was celebrated at the Festival of the
Potter’s Wheel. Hymns sung at this festival praised “the lord of the wheel” as
the one “who fashioned gods and men.” When Khnum was viewed as a universal
creator, his name was joined with those of other creator deities such as
Amun, Ptah, or Ra. His wheel was spun to remake the cosmos every morning.
The Egyptian word for ram sounded similar to the word for soul or manifestation
(ba). This may be why Khnum was sometimes identified with the soul of
other deities such as Geb, Osiris, and Ra. Most Underworld Books show the
nocturnal sun as a man with a ram’s head, because it is the soul of Ra that is
passing through the underworld.
See also Heqet; Imhotep; Ra; Satet and Anuket
154 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
References and further reading:
A. M. Badawi. Der Gott Chnum. Glückstadt: 1937.
P. F. Dorman. “Creation on the Potter’s Wheel at the Eastern Horizon of Heaven.”
In Gold of Praise: Studies on Ancient Egypt in Honor of Edward F. Wente,
edited by E. Teeter and J. A. Larson. Chicago: 1999, 83–100.
Primary sources:
PT 522; CT 214; Famine stela; P. Westcar; Esna hymns
KHONSU (KHONS, CHONS)
Khonsu was a moon god whose name means “the Traveler.” In the south of
Egypt he was said to be the son of Amun and Mut. In the north, he was the son
of Ptah and Sekhmet. He could be shown as a falcon-headed man or as child
wearing the sidelock of youth. His usual headdress represented a full moon
above a crescent moon.
The earliest references to Khonsu make him a terrifying figure. He was the
“angry one of the gods” who strangled lesser deities and ate the hearts of the
dead. Later he was associated with fate, judgment, and punishment. A baboon
form of Khonsu was feared as the Keeper of the Books of the End of Year. These
were the books in which the gods wrote the names of those who were going to
die during the year. People appealed to a gentler aspect of the god, “Khonsu the
Merciful,” to alter the decrees of fate.
It was mainly for his ferocious qualities that Khonsu was invoked in spells
to oppose powerful demons. An inscription dating to around the fourth century
BCE relates how a statue of Khonsu was sent to help a foreign princess who was
possessed by a spirit. The story is set 900 years earlier in the reign of Rameses
II. It tells how Rameses married a princess of the distant land of Bakhtan. While
the king and queen were celebrating a festival in Thebes, news came that the
queen’s sister, Bentresh, was very ill.
King Rameses sent a learned scribe to Bakhtan. He diagnosed that the
princess’s illness was caused by a spirit that was too powerful for him to fight.
The prince of Bakhtan asked the king of Egypt to send him a god who could
fight this spirit. Rameses consulted the oracle of Khonsu at Karnak and was told
to send a statue that was inhabited by a special manifestation known as
“Khonsu who determines Fate, the great god who drives out disease demons.”
The divine statue arrived in Bakhtan after a journey of seventeen months.
The god created magical protection for the princess, and “she became well at
once.” The prince of Bakhtan and his soldiers watched in terror as Khonsu conversed
with the spirit he had driven out. Khonsu ordered the prince to make offerings
to placate the spirit so that it would never return. The prince was so impressed
by the power of the divine statue that he decided to keep it in Bakhtan.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 155
After several years, the god appeared to the prince in a dream making it clear
that he wanted to go home. The prince did not dare to keep the statue any
longer and sent it back to Egypt with many rich gifts for the temple of Khonsu.
The temple of Khonsu at Karnak is very well preserved. On one of its walls
is a text known as the Khonsu cosmogony. This type of text tries to explain the
origins of the world. In this version, Khonsu is identified with the great snake
who fertilized the cosmic egg and “traveled to Thebes in his name of Khonsu
(the Traveler).”
See also Amun; Baboons; Moon; Mut
References and further reading:
G. Hart. “Khonsu.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London and
Boston: 1986, 112–115.
R. A. Parker and L. H. Lesko. “The Khonsu Cosmogony.” In Pyramid Studies and
Other Essays Presented to I. E. S. Edwards, edited by J. Baines. London: 1988,
168–175.
Primary sources:
PT 273–274; CT 311; Bentresh Stela; Khonsu Cosmogony
KINGS AND PRINCES
Kingship was a sacred institution, established in the First Time as part of the divine
order (maat). This did not mean that individual kings were always considered
infallible. Mythical history included a long period when individual deities
ruled as kings or queens of Egypt. A number of myths center on disputes over
the royal succession. The most important of these was the sixty-year conflict
between Horus and Seth. When Horus was acclaimed as the rightful ruler, he
became the model for all Egyptian kings.
It was an Egyptian king’s duty to please the gods, give justice to humanity,
and make offerings to the spirits of the dead. Kings and princes were praised as
champions of maat when they led the armies of Egypt into battle (see “Period of
Rule by Kings” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). Kings could be
shown literally upholding the divine order by taking on the Heh gods’ task of
supporting the sky. In the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, the king can be
identified with the creator who swallows up all the other deities each night.
Dead kings were also assimilated to Osiris, the murdered god who rose again as
ruler of the dead. In New Kingdom Underworld Books, the king sometimes
joins the sun god in his barque to fight the nightly battle against chaos.
Living kings could be credited with divine qualities. The boy king
Tutankhamun was optimistically described as having the courage of Seth, the
strength of Horus, the knowledge of Ra, the skill of Ptah, and the discernment
of Thoth. Royal-birth myths gave some rulers a divine parent. Inscriptions in
Luxor temple tell how the god Amun transformed himself into a likeness of
156 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
King Thutmose IV (c. 1400–1390 BCE) (see Figure 20). He entered the palace
where Thutmose’s queen Mutemwiya was sleeping. She was woken by his pervading
scent and was overcome by desire. Amun then did “everything that he
wished with her.” He promised the queen that their son (Amenhotep III) would
rule Egypt “like Ra for ever.”
Such myths were sometimes used to justify a change of dynasty. The climax
of a cycle of stories set in the reign of King Khufu (c. 2589–2566 BCE) is the
birth of three “sons of Ra” who will replace Khufu’s dynasty as rulers of Egypt.
This Middle Kingdom story cycle portrays Khufu as a tyrannical monarch who
needs to be told what is right by a wise peasant. His bad reputation survived
right down to the fifth century BCE when Herodotus was told that Cheops
(Khufu) had set his own daughter to work as a prostitute to help pay for his
pyramid building.
Weak or unjust rulers feature in tales of many different periods. In the New
Kingdom tale The Two Brothers, a King of Egypt has the husband of a woman
he wants to marry slaughtered and gives in to all this evil woman’s whims. In
the Late Period story of Meryra, a king learns that he is going to die unless
someone enters the underworld for him. Meryra agrees to die in the king’s
place. He plots a dreadful revenge from the underworld when he learns that the
ungrateful king has seized his widow.
Greco-Roman Period stories about a prince called Setna describe him stealing
a magic book from a tomb. He fails to learn from the example of an earlier
prince who was killed by Thoth for using the forbidden book. In another of the
stories, an Egyptian king called Siamun is snatched from his bed every night and
beaten by wax figures brought to life by a Nubian sorcerer. The king is only
saved from this humiliating treatment by the wisdom of a priest-magician. Later
in the same story, Setna and his father, King Rameses II, are powerless against
Nubian sorcery until the spirit of the priest-magician returns to help them.
Herodotus tells a story about an Egyptian king called Rhampsinitus, who
may be partly based on Rameses II. Rhampsinitus is unable to protect his royal
treasure from a clever thief. In the end he has to accept the thief as his son-inlaw.
As in earlier Egyptian tales, intelligence and courage come off best against
hereditary power.
See also Bastet; Cattle; Heqet; Horus; Magicians; Montu; Osiris; Ra
References and further reading:
H. Frankfort. Kingship and the Gods. Chicago: 1948.
D. O’Connor and D. Silverman (eds.). Ancient Egyptian Kingship. Leiden: 1995.
Primary sources:
PT 273–274; RDP; Loyalist Instruction; Ad; RBM; Sphinx stela of Amenhotep II;
Karnak stela; KASP; BON; TB; PV; Herodotus H II.120–121; Setna cycle
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 157
LOTUS
In some versions of the Egyptian creation story, the sun god was born from a
blue lotus that emerged from the primeval waters. The flower itself could be
identified with the great goddess who gave birth to the sun. The blue lotus
came to be a general symbol of rebirth. It was also the emblem of the god
Nefertem.
The sweetly scented blue lotus (nymphea caerulea) grows in still water. Its
flower buds only rise above the water and open their petals when the sun is
shining. This lotus is pollinated by beetles, which links it with Khepri, the beetle
god of dawn. The image of the first sunrise as a lotus emerging from the dark
waters and opening to reveal its golden stamens seems to be an ancient one.
From around the fourteenth century BCE on, the newly risen sun could be
pictured as a naked child sitting inside the lotus and holding one finger to his
lips. In hymns intended to be sung at dawn, the sun god Ra is “the child of gold
who issues from the lotus.” Ra was thought to age during the course of the day,
so the infant god became an old man by sunset.
In some accounts the lotus comes into being after the eight primeval beings
known as the Ogdoad of Hermopolis fertilized the waters of chaos. These fertile
waters might be thought of as a great primeval goddess who, in the form of a
cow or a lotus, gives birth to the creator sun god. This goddess can be named as
Mehet-Weret, Hathor, or Neith. Various child gods such as Horus the Child,
Ihy, and Nefertem could all be identified with the solar child in the lotus. Ihy, a
son of Hathor, was called “the child who shines in the lotus.”
Nefertem was occasionally shown as a child seated on the lotus but more
often as a man or a lion-headed man wearing a lotus headdress. His epithets,
such as “the Great Lotus” and “the lotus-flower at the nose of Ra,” identify
him with the lotus itself. A sweet and powerful scent was a distinguishing characteristic
of Egyptian deities, and Nefertem was the god who presided over perfume
making. In Egyptian funerary art, the dead were often shown holding a
blue lotus to their noses. Breathing in the perfume of the lotus gave them new
life as followers of Ra.
See also Horus the Child; Khepri; Ogdoad of Hermopolis; Ra; Sons of Horus
References and further reading:
M. Lurker. “Lotus.” In The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt. Translated by
Barbara Cumming and revised by Peter Clayton. London: 1980, 77–78.
M-L. Ryhiner. L’Offerande du lotus dans les temples égyptiens de l’épopque tardive.
Rites Égyptiens VI. Brussels: 1986.
Primary sources:
PT 249, 512; CT 80; BD 15, 81

MAAT (MA’ET)
The central concept of Egyptian cosmology and ethics was personified as the
goddess Maat wearing an ostrich feather on her head. The word maat can mean
truth, justice, righteousness, order, balance, and cosmic law. The goddess Maat
was the beloved daughter of Ra, the creator sun god. She traveled with him in
the sun barque, delighting his heart and giving “life to his nostrils.” The primary
duty of an Egyptian king was to be the champion of maat. In the afterlife,
the dead were judged on whether they had done and spoken maat.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 159
Figure 34. Painted relief from a Nineteenth Dynasty royal tomb
showing the goddess Maat. Museo Archeologico, Florence, Italy.
(Scala/Art Resource, New York)
From the Old Kingdom onward, Maat’s presence was thought to be vital to
the daily regeneration of the sun god. In Underworld Books she is often shown
standing close to Ra in both the Day and Night Boats of the sun. This, or the
dual nature of Egypt as two kingdoms, may explain why Maat can appear as two
identical goddesses.
Maat shares her feather emblem with the air god Shu. She was sometimes
equated with Shu’s sister, Tefnut. The gods were said to “live on maat,” and the
goddess was identified with the basics of life: air to breathe, bread to eat, and
beer to drink. From the fourteenth century BCE onward, Maat was often shown
as a winged goddess. Like Isis, she could revive the dead with the air generated
by her beating wings. Another emblem of Maat was a plinth sign that was used
in the writing of her name. Such plinths are shown below the thrones of deities
who act as divine judges. This depiction has been interpreted as a symbol that
maat was the base on which Egyptian society was built.
Kings were frequently shown offering a miniature figure of Maat to the
chief deity of a temple. All the daily rituals and sacrifices would be deemed
meaningless unless the king and his people were living righteous lives. Judges
and high officials wore images of the goddess to signify that they were enforcing
her laws. Maat was often linked with Thoth, the impartial judge, who was said
to have put the laws of maat into writing. This gave a divine precedent for the
many works of Egyptian literature that teach or debate how to “live in maat” in
the real world.
Egyptian myths of a golden age included a period when Maat was ruler of
earth. She was sometimes said to have withdrawn to the heavens because she
was grieved by the wicked behavior of humanity. Maat could still be thought of
as living with an individual like his or her good angel and accompanying that
person into the afterlife. Eventually “joining Maat” became a euphemism for
dying.
In the Book of the Dead, the Hall of the Two Truths (or the Double Maat)
is the place where the souls of the dead come to be judged. The hearts of the
dead were weighed against the feather of Maat, and her image sometimes surmounts
the scales. If, like Ra, the dead person had Maat in his or her heart, the
scales would balance and the deceased would be declared “true of voice” or
“justified” (see Figure 7).
A hymn from the time when Egypt was occupied by the Persians evokes
“the beautiful face of Maat” shining from the heart of Ra. The goddess is urged
to reside in the tongue and the head of the Persian king, so that he will do
maat. During the Greco-Roman Period, Maat seems to have lost her central
place in Egyptian religion, and some of her functions were taken over by Isis.
See also Birds; Isis; Kings and Princes; Shu and Tefnut; Thoth
160 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
References and further reading:
E. Hornung. “The Concept of Maat.” In Idea into Image: Essays on Ancient
Egyptian Thought. Translated by Elizabeth Bredeck. Princeton: 1992, 131–145.
E. Teeter. The Presentation of Maat: The Iconography and Theology of an Ancient
Egyptian Offering Ritual. Chicago: 1990.
Primary sources:
CT 80; BD 125; Eloquent Peasant; Solar hymns; Amenemope; Hibis hymn (to
Maat)
MAFDET
Mafdet was a goddess who butchered the enemies of Ra.
See also Feline Deities
MAGICIANS
Ancient Egyptian heroes were usually magicians rather than warriors. Deities
such as Isis and Thoth were presented as powerful magicians, and the dead
needed to use spells and amulets to survive in the afterlife. At a time when
reading was a rare skill, book learning of all kinds was associated with magic.
Historical figures with a scholarly reputation, such as the Third Dynasty official
Imhotep, became magicians in legend. The amazing powers attributed to
the ritual specialists known as lector priests were the subject of many tales.
A cycle of Middle Kingdom stories set in the reign of King Khufu
(c. 2589–2566 BCE) tells of great magicians of the past. The first story in the sequence
probably featured Imhotep, but only the last few lines are preserved.
The second story concerns the chief lector priest Webaoner (Ubainer) and his
wife. This lector priest discovers that his wife is meeting a lover in a lakeside
pavilion. He consults his magic scrolls and makes a crocodile of wax “seven fingers
long.” This wax crocodile is thrown into the lake when his wife’s lover is
bathing. It becomes a crocodile 7 cubits long (about 3.5 meters) that seizes the
lover and keeps him at the bottom of the lake for seven days. Webaoner shows
his king what he has done and turns the terrible crocodile back into a wax
model. The king condemns Webaoner’s wife and her lover to death. The wife is
burned and the lover is given up to the magic crocodile, who drags him down
into the underworld.
A lake is also the main setting for the third story, but this is much more
cheerful in tone. King Sneferu is bored, so the wise lector priest Djadjaemankh
advises him to go for a trip on the palace lake in a barge rowed by twenty beautiful
girls. When one of the rowers loses her favorite turquoise pendant,
Djadjaemankh uses his magic to roll back the waters and recover the jewel from
the bottom.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 161
One of Khufu’s sons then promises to bring him a 110-year-old peasant who
is more skilled in magic than all these priest-magicians of the past. The peasant
Djedi can tame lions with his magic, an ominous prospect for King Khufu, as
this animal traditionally represented the power of the king. Khufu wants to behead
a criminal and have Djedi bring him back to life. Fear of losing your head
in the afterlife is mentioned in many spells, so this may be Khufu’s motive.
Djedi rebukes the king for wanting to experiment on people and restores the
severed heads of two geese and a bull. Finally, Khufu asks Djedi for what he really
wants: the number of the chambers in the mansion of Thoth. This secret
knowledge would probably allow Khufu to build the perfect tomb for himself.
Djedi warns him that this knowledge is destined to be revealed only to the eldest
of three kings who will replace Khufu’s dynasty.
Secret knowledge is a central theme in the stories told about Setna, a character
based on a prince of the thirteenth century BCE who is known to have
done much restoration work in the cemeteries and temples of Memphis. In legend,
he was transformed into a tomb robber, determined to steal a copy of the
Book of Thoth. Setna meets the ghosts of an earlier prince and his wife. They
warn him that if he takes the Book of Thoth and tries to use the spells it contains,
the gods will punish him. Setna ignores their warnings, but he is forced to
return the book after a series of uncanny experiences.
In one of these, Setna agrees to the murder of his own children. This turns
out to be an illusion, and Setna’s son Sa-Osiris grows up to be a great magician.
He takes his father on a magical journey through the underworld and shows
him the very different fates of the evil and the good after death. When Setna and
his father (Rameses II) are challenged by a Nubian sorcerer to read a sealed letter
without opening it, only Sa-Osiris can perform this feat. The letter tells how
hundreds of years before, a magician called Sa-Paneshe defeated a Nubian sorceress
and her son who were casting spells on a king of Egypt. Sa-Osiris then reveals
that he is the spirit of Sa-Paneshe reborn to protect Egypt from the continuing
threat of Nubian sorcery.
See also Baboons; Bastet; Heqet; Imhotep; Kings and Princes; Thoth
References and further reading:
S. Tower Hollis. “Tales of Magic and Wonder from Ancient Egypt.” In Civilizations
of the Ancient Near East, vol. 4, edited by J. M. Sasson. New York: 1995,
2255–2264.
W. J. Tait. “Theban Magic.” In Hundred-Gated Thebes, edited by S. P. Vleeming.
Leiden and New York: 1995, 169–182.
Primary sources:
P. Westcar; Setna cycle; Petese
162 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
MAHES (MIHOS)
Mahes was a fierce lion god.
See also Bastet; Feline Deities
MEHET-WERET (MEHURIT, METHYER)
Mehet-Weret was a primeval cow goddess who gave birth to the sun god. Her
name originally meant the “Great Flood” but was later reinterpreted as the
“Great Swimmer.” She was a female counterpart of Nun, the god of the
primeval ocean, and a rival for his title of “oldest of beings.” In some contexts,
Mehet-Weret is merely an epithet of creator goddesses such as Hathor, Neith,
or Isis.
Mehet-Weret was thought of as existing before creation as a kind of fertile
current in the primeval ocean. Spell 17 of the Book of the Dead states that the
sun god Ra was “born from the buttocks” of Mehet-Weret. The primeval lotus,
from which the sun child is alternatively said to have emerged, was probably
also a form of this goddess. After creation, Mehet-Weret was identified with the
celestial waters traveled by the sun barque. In the nocturnal sky she was probably
the “river” of stars we know as the Milky Way.
Mehet-Weret could be shown as a cow-headed woman, a seated cow, or a
cow carrying a child. One of Mehet-Weret’s titles was “mound” or “island,” alluding
to the idea that the newborn sun god was raised above the primeval waters
on the head or back of Mehet-Weret so that he could begin his work of creation.
In a variation on this myth, Neith/Mehet-Weret is said to have saved the
infant sun from her children (the first crocodiles) by carrying him through the
waters of chaos. This finds a parallel in later mythical history. After a revolt by
humanity, Ra begins a new order by being carried up into the heavens on the
back of Nut in cow form. Nut and Mehet-Weret are sometimes treated as a pair
of cosmic cows with parallel myths and sometimes as the same deity. Nut has
an alternative sky form as a giant nude woman stretched above the earth. Ritual
spoons in the form of a nude female swimmer may depict Nut/Mehet-Weret.
The starry-patterned cows that form the sides of a golden bed from the
tomb of Tutankhamun are labeled Isis-Mehet [Weret]. The purpose of such funerary
beds was to help the dead king to ascend to the heavens, supported by
the celestial cow. In the Book of the Dead, the cow who stands at the entrance
to the realm of the dead is sometimes named as Mehet-Weret. By the New
Kingdom all the elite dead could hope to be helped by the cow goddess during
the vulnerable period of rebirth.
See also Cattle; Hathor; Neith; Nut
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 163
References and further reading:
B. S. Lesko. The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman, OK: 1999, 17, 21–26, 62.
G. Pinch. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford: 1993, 175–183.
Primary sources:
PT 317; BD 17, 124, 186; Esna calendar
MEHIT (MEHYT, MEKHIT)
Mehit was a lion goddess worshipped at Thinis.
See also Feline Deities; Onuris
MERETSEGER
Meretseger was a Theban snake goddess.
See also Snakes
MESKHENET
Meskhenet was a goddess associated with birth and fate.
See also Heqet; Shai
MIN
Min was an ancient god of human and agricultural fertility. The most masculine
of gods, Min was shown as a cloaked figure with a large erect penis. He
wears two tall plumes on his head, and his right arm is raised in a smiting gesture.
Above his right hand is a flail, which may be a herdsman’s whip. These
features suggest that Min could be an apotropaic deity, driving away evil with
his aggressive body language. Statues of Min were carried out to protect and
bless the fields, and the first fruits of the harvest were presented to him. From
the Middle Kingdom onward, Min was often identified with Horus, the son of
Isis. At Thebes, Min united with Amun to form a creator deity capable of generating
all life through his sexual potency.
From early times, Min could be represented by a mysterious emblem that
has been variously interpreted as a lightning bolt, a barbed arrow, a pair of fossilized
shellfish, or a door bolt. This symbol appears on the 5,000-year-old
Colossi of Min found in his temple at Coptos on the edge of the eastern desert.
Min was worshipped as Lord of the Eastern Desert by the miners, quarrymen,
and hunters who worked in this desolate region.
Min is mentioned in several of the Pyramid Texts. His tall plumes seem to
give the dead king the power to fly up into the heavens. Spells in the Coffin
Texts helped deceased men to achieve the sexual prowess of Min, “the woman
164 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
hunter,” in the afterlife. Coffin Texts spell 335 asks who Min is and answers:
“He is Horus, the protector of his father.”
A tall-growing lettuce whose juice resembled semen was Min’s sacred
plant. An episode in the Contendings of Horus and Seth when Seth becomes
pregnant after eating “the seed of Horus” smeared on lettuce leaves illustrates
the extraordinary generative powers of Min-Horus. The sacred animals of Min
were a falcon and a white bull, and one of Min’s most important titles was Kamut-
ef (the Bull of his Mother). Min was said to secretly unite with his mother
under cover of darkness to beget himself. During the festival of Min, the queen
of Egypt took the role of the “mother of Min,” probably so that the royal ka (vital
force) could be passed intact from king to king. In narratives in which the
gods are treated like people, this archaic ritual becomes the myth of the rape of
Isis by her son Min-Horus-Nakht (Horus the Strong). This led to a further identification
of Min with Osiris, the father of the son of Isis.
When the Greeks settled in Egypt, they saw Min as a form of the virile
goat-god Pan, the protector of travelers in lonely places. One Classical writer
claimed that Min was promoted to god of fertility after making love to all the
women in Egypt when the men were away at war.
See also Amun; Horus; Isis
References and further reading:
B. Adams. “A Lettuce for Min.” Studien fur Aegyptischen Kultur 8 (1980): 9–16.
R. H. Wilkinson. “Ancient Near Eastern Raised-arm Figures and the Iconography
of Min.” Bulletin of the Egyptology Seminar 11 (1991–1992): 109–118.
Primary sources:
PT 667a; CT 335, 649, 967; Min festival texts; Hibis texts
MONTU (MONT, MONTH)
A fierce Upper Egyptian falcon god who may have originated as a star deity,
Montu was the chief god of the Theban region and had temples at Armant,
Medamud, and Tod. He was usually shown as a falcon-headed man, wearing a
sun disk with two plumes and holding a curved sword or a spear. Fighting was
“the work of Montu.” He attacked the enemies of maat (order) and inspired
kings and warriors on the battlefield. Battleships were decorated with protective
images of the “four Montus” (of Thebes, Armant, Medamud, and Tod)
spearing and trampling the enemies of Egypt.
Armant (Hermonthis) was considered to be the southern equivalent of
Heliopolis, the city of the sun god Ra. As early as the twentieth century BCE,
Montu was worshipped as an aspect of the sun god. His chief consort was Raettawy,
a female form of Ra usually shown wearing the sun disk and cow horns
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 165
headdress of Hathor. The gods Montu-Ra and Atum-Ra could represent the
kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. Montu-Ra was the patron deity of King
Nebhepetre Montuhotep (“Montu-is-content”) who reunited Egypt at the end of
the First Intermediate Period.
Egyptian kings liked to compare themselves to “strong-armed Montu.” An
inscription of Amenhotep II (c. 1427–1401 BCE) claims that as a youth of eighteen
he was able to shoot arrows through a copper target while driving a chariot
because he had the skill and strength of Montu. Rameses II (c. 1290–1224 BCE)
boasted that he had turned defeat into victory at the battle of Qadesh by attacking
the enemy “in the likeness of Montu,” charging their ranks “like a swooping
falcon.”
Rameses also compared himself to an “eager bull” in battle, which was another
of Montu’s forms. Montu was probably associated with the fights between
bulls staged at some religious festivals. From the fourth century BCE onward, a
black and white bull was always kept in the Montu temple at Armant. These
“Buchis bulls” were revered as manifestations of the twin souls of Ra and
Osiris. Each Buchis bull had a staff of twenty. He wore crowns and necklaces
and a face net to keep off flies.
See also Cattle; Ra; Satet and Anuket
References and further reading:
E. K. Werner. The God Montu: From the Earliest Attestations to the End of the
Old Kingdom. Ann Arbor, MI: 1986.
E. K. Werner. “Montu and the ‘Falcon Ships’ of the Eighteenth Dynasty.” Journal
of the American Research Center in Egypt 23 (1986): 107–123.
Primary sources:
PT 503; Sphinx stela of Amenhotep II; Qadesh inscriptions
MOON
A variety of male and female deities was associated with aspects of the moon.
The god who personified the moon itself was called Iah (Yah), but he never
gained great importance in cult or myth. Khonsu and Thoth were major lunar
deities who could be shown wearing a crescent (the new moon) and a disk (the
full moon). The Egyptian equivalent of “the man in the moon” was a great
white baboon. The moon was also thought of as the left eye of Horus, the heavenly
falcon. The complex mythology of the moon centered on its dramatic
monthly cycle of decline and renewal.
As a god of the new moon Khonsu could be shown as a child, whereas as
god of the full moon he appeared as a falcon-headed man crowned with a lunar
disk: “a sun that shines at night.” As a god who punished the wicked, Khonsu
acted like a lunar equivalent of the merciless Eye of Ra. Khonsu and Thoth
166 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
were both divine reckoners who decided the length of a person’s life span.
Thoth was said to have invented the lunar calendar, which fixed the date of
temple festivals. One myth relates how Thoth’s baboon form was created to
rule the night sky as the deputy of the sun god so that humanity need not fear
the dark. In the Book of Two Ways, the spirits of the dead strive to join Thoth in
the Mansion of the Moon.
A temporary destruction of the moon is one of the mythical events frequently
mentioned but never very fully described in Egyptian texts. In some
versions, the lunar eye of Horus seems to be attacked or even swallowed by the
god Seth in the form of a black pig. Thoth forces him to disgorge the moon
again. This is similar to the image of the sky goddess swallowing the sun every
night and giving birth to it every morning, so Seth can be regarded as the
“mother” of the moon.
Other texts refer to a fight in which one or both of the eyes of Horus are
torn out by Seth. Thoth is usually said to be the one who finds, heals, and restores
the wounded eye. From Classical times onward, these myths have been
interpreted as symbolic accounts of lunar eclipses or of the monthly waxing and
waning of the moon. The waxing moon was sometimes represented in temple
art by a fierce young bull and the waning moon by a tame ox (castrated bull).
The lunar cycle also came to be linked with the death and revival of Osiris.
The Greek writer Plutarch reported the belief that the fourteen days of the waning
moon were equated with the fourteen parts of the dismembered body of
Osiris, which had to be joined together to make him whole again.
Plutarch also noted that the moon was sometimes thought of as female.
From early times the right or solar eye of the heavenly falcon was personified as
a goddess. The liking for complementary pairs seems to have led to the creation
of a lunar eye goddess. The Two Ladies, Wadjyt and Nekhbet, could sometimes
stand for the fiery light of the sun and the radiant light of the moon. Goddesses
such as Hathor and Bastet might play the roles of both the solar and the lunar
eyes. Their terrible lion forms were usually solar, but their gentler cat forms
could be lunar. The behavior of cats was believed to be influenced by the lunar
cycle. When Isis became the paramount deity, she was also worshipped as a
moon goddess.
See also Atum; Eye of Ra; Eyes of Horus; Khonsu; Onuris; Seth; Thoth; Two Ladies
References and further reading:
P. Derchain. “Mythes et dieux lunaires en Égypte.” In La Lune, mythes et rites.
Sources Orientales 5. Paris: 1962.
A. Roberts. “Moon and Sun.” In Hathor Rising. Trowbridge, England: 1995,
70–115.
Primary sources:
PT 359; CT 50, 155; BD 112; I&O 12, 42–44, 63

MUT (MOUT)
Little is known about the origins
of this goddess, but from
the New Kingdom onward she
was worshipped as the Queen of
the Gods. At Thebes, Mut became
the chief consort of
Amun-Ra and the mother of the
moon god Khonsu. Her name
derives from the Egyptian word
for mother. Mut was most commonly
shown as a mature
woman wearing the vulture
headdress of an Egyptian queen,
but she also had lioness and cat
forms.
In royal-birth myths, the
reigning queen was identified
with Mut uniting with her consort
Amun to produce a divine
child who was destined to rule
Egypt. Each new king absorbed
the power to rule from the milk
of his mother Mut. As an emblem
of sovereignty, Mut could
be shown wearing the White
Crown of Upper Egypt or the
Double Crown of Upper and
Lower Egypt and holding royal
scepters. A few New Kingdom
hymns name her as the leader of the gods, the female equivalent of the creator
sun god. They praise her for creating the inundation from the sweat of her body
and caring for all people.
Mut could also play the role of the shining first-born daughter of the sun
god, the Eye of Ra. She was sometimes linked with the myth in which Ra and
his daughter take the form of cats to slay the Apophis serpent under the ished
tree. When Mut quarreled with her father, she roamed the Libyan desert in the
form of a cat and had to be persuaded to come back to Egypt. Her return was
greeted with wild rejoicing among gods, people, and animals.

The myth of the return of the far-wandering goddess was reenacted in temples
of Mut. The important ritual of the pacification of the angry goddess took
place on a crescent-shaped lake representing the mythical place, Isheru. The
purpose of the ritual was to transform the destructive aspect of the solar goddess
(Sekhmet) into one of her more benevolent aspects (Mut, Lady of Isheru,
Hathor, or Bastet). The pacified goddess would then consent to take a husband
and give birth to the divine child.
Mut-Sekhmet was credited with the power to prevent or inflict plague and
other infectious diseases. The hundreds of lion-headed statues of the goddess
from the temple of Mut at Karnak may have been set up to protect Egypt from
the epidemics that periodically devastated the Ancient Near East.
The “flame of Mut” was one of the most feared of divine weapons, and her
role as a punisher was not restricted to the mythical realm. Traitors and criminals
who were considered “enemies of Ra” might be burned alive on braziers in
her temples. A particularly terrifying form of Mut-Sekhmet-Bastet had wings, a
penis, and three heads: human, lion. and vulture. When the souls of the dead
faced judgment in the afterlife, they could invoke this deity to save them from a
horrible death in the Place of Execution.
See also Amun; Bastet; Eye of Ra; Feline Deities; Khonsu; Sekhmet
References and further reading:
B. S. Lesko. “Mut and the Sacred Cats.” In The Great Goddesses of Egypt.
Norman, OK: 1999, 130–154.
L. Troy. “Mut Enthroned.” In Essays on Ancient Egypt in Honour of Herman te
Velde, edited by J. van Dijk. Groningen, Netherlands: 1997, 301–315.
Primary sources:
BD 164; RBM; Mut ritual; Crossword stela; EofS
NEFERTEM (NEFERTUM)
Nefertem was the god of the primeval lotus.
See also Lotus; Ptah
NEHEBKAU
Nehebkau was a primeval snake god who could be shown as a serpent with human
arms or legs.
See also Snakes
NEITH (NEIT)
Neith was a formidable creator goddess who could be called the Great Mother.
Her name may mean “the terrifying one.” She was commonly shown as a
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 169
woman wearing the Red Crown of the north. Her temple at Sais in the Delta
was one of Ancient Egypt’s most famous buildings.
Neith was a very important deity in the Early Dynastic Period. The curious
symbol that represented Neith in these early times may originally have been
a click beetle. Later this symbol was reinterpreted as two arrows crossing a
shield. Click beetles are usually found near water, and Neith was often equated
with Mehet-Weret, a primeval goddess whose name means the Great Flood. She
was the mother of the creator sun god and so had claims to be considered the
oldest of beings. At Sais, Neith was called “the great mother who gave birth to
Ra; she instituted giving birth when there had been no childbirth before.” By extension,
Neith could also be regarded as the mother of that other divine child,
Horus.
As early as the New Kingdom, Neith was alluded to as “the Mother and
Father of all things.” A text in the Roman Period temple of Esna describes how
Neith created the world by speaking seven magical words. As the personification
of the fertile primeval waters, she was the mother of the snakes and
crocodiles “who are in the abyss.” Neith, “the nurse of crocodiles,” was shown
as a crocodile-headed woman suckling two small crocodiles. She was often
named as the mother of Sobek, the most important crocodile god. When Neith
spat into the primeval waters, her spittle turned into the terrible chaos monster,
Apophis, who nightly challenged the rule of the sun god. One festival at Esna
commemorated Neith saving the newborn Ra from her children (the crocodiles
or the chaos serpent) by carrying him across the waters.
Neith, “mistress of the bow,” was depicted holding a bow and arrows. The
arrows of Neith were used to strike down the enemies of the sun god, including
her offspring Apophis. In the Pyramid Texts, Neith was named as one of the
four goddesses who protected the royal sarcophagus and canopic chest. This
protective role was later extended to all the dead.
See also Apophis; Cattle; Horus the Child; Mehet-Weret; Nun; Sobek
References and further reading:
R. El-Sayed. Le Désse Neith de Saïs. BiEtud 86. Cairo: 1982.B.
S. Lesko. “Neith, Lady of Sais and Creator of All.” In The Great Goddesses of
Egypt. Norman, OK: 1999 , 45–63.
Primary sources:
PT 362, 555; CT 669, 820; Ad, hours 10–11; H&S; Udjahorresne; Esna calendar;
Esna Texts
NEKHBET
Nekhbet was the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt.
See also Two Ladies
170 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
NEMTY
Nemty was a divine ferryman.
See also Anti
NEPER (NEPRI)
Neper was the god who personified the grain harvest.
See also Osiris; Renenutet
NEPHTHYS
One of the Two Sisters who mourned for the murdered god Osiris, Nephthys
was the youngest of the five children of the sky goddess and the unwilling partner
of her brother Seth. She mainly features in myth as the devoted companion
of her sister, Isis, but she was a popular protective goddess in funerary art.
Nephthys was usually shown as a woman wearing the signs that write her
name (Lady of the Mansion) on her head.
Nephthys never enjoyed the high status of her sister, Isis. In spite of her
nominal pairing with Seth, Nephthys seems to have lived with Isis and her husband
Osiris. Perhaps because of her sham marriage, Nephthys is described in
one of the Pyramid Texts as “an imitation woman with no vagina.” A few
Egyptian texts allude to the distress of Isis on discovering that her husband has
slept with Nephthys. The Greek writer Plutarch relates that Nephthys tricked
Osiris into sleeping with her and then gave birth to a monstrous son, Anubis.
Nephthys abandoned the child to die, but Isis found and saved him. Plutarch
saw Osiris as representing the fertilizing Nile flood, Isis the cultivated land of
the Nile valley, and Nephthys the usually barren desert.
After the murder of Osiris, Nephthys and Isis searched for his body or for
the dismembered parts of that body. The two goddesses were present during the
mummification of the body by Anubis. Isis and Nephthys are mentioned in the
Pyramid Texts as part of the group of four goddesses who guarded the king’s
mummified body and organs. As one of the goddesses of weaving, Nephthys
was particularly associated with the linen bandages that wrapped a mummy.
These bandages were sometimes called the “tresses of Nephthys.” When it became
common to identify all dead persons with Osiris, Isis and Nephthys were
often shown standing at either end of the funeral bier.
The sisters, sometimes in the form of two kites (small birds of prey), were
said to have kept a long vigil over the mummy of Osiris to protect him from further
attacks by Seth. This vigil was reenacted by two young women, who represented
Isis and Nephthys, at festivals of Osiris and at the funerals of important
people and sacred animals. In the passionate laments sung during this ritual,
Nephthys describes herself as the “beloved sister” of the “good king” Osiris.

Nephthys seems to play only a minor role in the bringing up of her nephew,
Horus. She is usually shown watching in scenes in which Horus raises the djed
pillar, a tableaux that symbolized the revival of Osiris. In the Book of the Dead,
Nephthys often stands with her sister behind the throne of Osiris presiding over
the judgment of the dead.
See also Anubis; Djed Pillar; Isis; Osiris; Seshat; Seth
References and further reading:
C. J. Bleeker. “Isis and Nephthys as Wailing Women.” Numen 5 (1958): 1–18.
L. Troy. Patterns of Queenship in Ancient Egyptian Myth and History. Uppsala:
1986, 36–39.
Primary sources:
PT 534, 555; CT 74; BD 125; Lamentations; I&O 38
NUN (NOUN, NU)
Nun was a personification of the primeval ocean from which all life came. After
creation, the watery darkness known as the nun continued to surround the
world. It existed above the stars and as an abyss that formed the lowest depths
of the underworld. As a deity, Nun was considered the oldest of beings and
called the Father of the Gods. He and his female counterpart Naunet were
among the eight primeval beings who made up the Ogdoad of Hermopolis.
As a member of the Ogdoad, Nun had a frog or frog-headed form. From the
New Kingdom onward, he was also shown as a fecundity figure presenting the
king with the gift of water, the most precious of all substances in desert countries.
The Egyptians believed that all the seas and rivers had their ultimate
172 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 36. A scene from the last hour of the Book of Gates showing Nun lifting the sun
god out of the abyss at dawn. (Art Resource)
source in the nun. During the annual Nile flood, Egypt seemed to revert to its
primeval state, and civilization was in danger of being swept away. The creator
had to intervene and send divine messengers to ask Nun to curb the destructive
power of his flood.
Since the nun also contained the potential to create life, Nun was thought
of as a demiurge, a kind of instinctive movement toward consciousness. At
Memphis, the creator god Ptah was said to “have embodied himself as Nun” in
order to make things live and grow. More often, Egyptian creation myths speak
of the creator’s coming into being “in the nun.” The generative powers of the
nun could be personified by a goddess known as Mehet-Weret (the Great Flood)
who gave birth to the creator sun god.
Every night the sun god Ra returned to the watery abyss to be regenerated.
Most semiconscious or unconscious states, such as dreaming, drunkenness, or
death, were thought of in terms of descending into this abyss. In the
Underworld Book known as the Book of Gates, Ra joins the spirits of the dead
in the nun. At the climax of this book, the god Nun appears as a giant figure
lifting the sun boat out of the depths and into the sky. More pessimistic
Egyptian texts speak of the world ending when the creator chooses to return to
his “father” Nun.
The chief god of any temple could be identified with Nun in order to give
him seniority over other deities. Egyptian respect for the wisdom of old age led
to Nun’s being revered as a counselor. In one myth, Ra consults Nun when
people start to rebel against the gods. Nun’s advice is to send the goddess
Hathor down as a lioness to punish humanity. In myths from other Near
Eastern cultures, a great flood is sent to kill the wicked. The Egyptian version
may not be as different as it seems, since Hathor can be both the solar lioness
and the goddess known as the Great Flood.
See also Hapy; Mehet-Weret; Ogdoad of Hermopolis
References and further reading:
J. P. Allen. Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation
Accounts. 2d ed. Yale Egyptological Studies 2. San Antonio, TX: 1995, 4–7.
A. Spalinger. “The Destruction of Mankind: A Transitional Literary Text.” Studien
zur Altägyptischen Kultur 28 (2000): 257–282.
Primary sources:
PT 361; CT 80, 714; BD 175; BHC; Solar hymns; BOG; BOE; BON; MT
NUT (NOUT)
Nut was the sky goddess who was the daughter of the air god Shu and his sister,
Tefnut. Nut was the consort of her brother, the earth god Geb, and the mother
of several important deities including Osiris, Isis, and Seth. As the sky, Nut was
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 173
shown either as a giant nude woman arched above the earth or as a giant cow
with starry markings. Her name probably derives from an Ancient Egyptian
word for water (nw) and her symbol was a water pot.
Several myths deal with the separation of sky and earth. The first, which
seems to be as old as the Pyramid Texts, relates how Nut and Geb embraced
each other so fervently that there was no room between them for anything to
exist. Either at the command of the creator or because he was jealous, Shu separated
his children and held Nut and Geb permanently apart (see Figure 42). Nut
could then give birth to the children she had already conceived.
In the Coffin Texts, Nut is described as the “mother of the five epagomenal
days.” A late explanation of this statement is found in Plutarch’s book on
Egyptian religion. It tells how Nut (whom Plutarch calls Rhea) was pregnant,
but the sun god put a curse on her so that she could not give birth on any day of
the year. The god Hermes (Thoth) played a board game with the moon and won
enough light to make five extra days on which Nut’s children could be born.
The five children were Osiris, Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys.
In other accounts of mythical history, there seems no permanent separation
until the creator sun god Ra decides to leave the earth after a rebellion by humanity.
Nut takes the form of a cow to carry Ra up into the heavens, a myth
encapsulated in the image of a sun disk between cow’s horns that became the
insignia of several goddesses. When she was holding the sun god high above the
earth, Nut’s “limbs began to shake,” so the eight Heh gods were created to support
her.
Nut was particularly associated with the night sky, and some scholars have
identified her with the Milky Way. In the Pyramid Texts, it is Nut who draws
the dead king up to the heavens to live again as a star. The sky was often
thought of as a watery region in which the stars and planets might swim like
fish or sail in boats.
In the day, the sun god sailed along the “sea below the belly of Nut.” Each
evening, the sun god was swallowed by Nut and passed through a perilous inner
sky inside her. At dawn, Nut gave birth to the sun, her blood turning the sky
red. At the same time she would be swallowing the moon and the stars to give
birth to them again at dusk. This violent imagery may have given rise to a reinterpretation
of Nut’s character as “the sow who eats her own piglets.” From the
New Kingdom onward, the solar cycle was depicted in royal tombs and in temple
halls with giant figures of Nut stretching across the ceilings.
In funerary religion Nut was regarded as one of the most helpful goddesses.
She was sometimes carved or painted on the underside of coffin lids, so that she
could embrace the deceased for all eternity. In the Book of the Dead and in decorated
tombs she was shown in a paradise garden as the goddess of the

sycamore-fig tree. In this role, Nut gave water and food to refresh the newly
dead and strengthen them for their journey through the underworld.
See also Cattle; Geb; Hippopotamus Goddesses; Mehet-Weret; Ra; Shu and Tefnut
References and further reading:
B. S. Lesko. “The Sky Goddess Nut.” In The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman,
OK: 1999, 22–44.
R. A. Wells. “The Mythology of Nut and the Birth of Ra.” Studien zur Altägyptischen
Kultur 19 (1992): 305–322.
Primary sources:
PT 588, 606, 697; CT 76, 80; BD 59, 152; BOD; BON; BofNut; I&O 12
OGDOAD OF HERMOPOLIS
The Ogdoad of Hermopolis was a group of eight primeval deities whose chief
cult center was Khenmw (Eight Town), later called Hermopolis Magna. The
Ogdoad embodied the qualities of primeval matter, such as darkness, moistness,
and lack of boundaries or visible powers. It usually consisted of four deities dou-
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 175
Figure 37. A rare representation of members of the Ogdoad of Hermopolis in the Book of the
Fayum. (Carsten Niebur Institute of Near Eastern Studies)
bled to eight by including female counterparts. Obeying some primitive instinct,
the eight came together to make the place (the Primeval Mound or the
Island of Flame) or an object (the Primeval Lotus or the Cosmic Egg) from which
the creator sun god emerged. This made the Ogdoad “the fathers and mothers”
of the creator. Alternatively, creator gods such as Amun, Ptah, or Thoth were
viewed as calling the eight into being. The creator was then “his” own ancestor,
the “father of the fathers and mothers.”
The deities who make up the Ogdoad differ from one source to another.
Nun and his female counterpart Naunet, the deities of the primeval waters, are
nearly always included. Naunet may be a primeval form of the sky goddess,
Nut. Amun and Amunet, deities of invisible power or the breath of life, are in
some of the oldest lists. When Amun was regarded as a creator separate from
the eight, he and Amunet were replaced by Nia and Niat, deities of the void.
Primeval darkness was represented by Kek and Keket or occasionally Gereh and
Gerehet. Some lists have Tenemet, “chaos,” or Heh and his female counterpart
Hehet. Heh and Hehet are difficult to interpret. They may originally have embodied
the strong currents in the Primeval Waters. The Ogdoad of Hermopolis
was sometimes treated as identical with the group of four or eight Heh gods created
by Shu to help him support the sky. They in turn were sometimes identified
with the “Eastern Souls,” the eight baboons who helped the sun to rise.
The Ogdoad could be represented in human form, but sometimes the males
have frog or jackal heads and the females snake heads. The amphibian and
snake forms of the Ogdoad were thought of as mating in and fertilizing the
Primeval Waters. An image of the waters alive with glutinous frog spawn may
be what the Egyptians had in mind. In some sources, the Ogdoad seem to be
forces that the creator has to subdue before the work of creation can begin. In
others they simply seem to die after bringing forth life. The Primeval Mound
was both the place of creation and the tomb of the Ogdoad. The Heh gods could
then be thought of as the shadows or heavenly souls of the Ogdoad.
The Heh gods belonged to the twilight after dusk and before dawn. This
was the equivalent in the daily solar cycle to the period of precreation in the
great cycle of mythical history. The Ogdoad merged in the primeval waters to
allow the creator to come into being, and the Heh gods acted together to make
the void in which the earth could come into being. Members of the Ogdoad
such as Nun and Naunet and Kek and Keket were said to help the sun to be reborn
as Khepri every morning.
See also Amun; Baboons; Lotus; Nun; Nut; Shu and Tefnut; Thoth
References and further reading:
S. Tower Hollis. “Otiose Deities and the Ancient Egyptian Pantheon.” Journal of
the American Research Center in Egypt 35 (1998): 61–72.
176 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
L. H. Lesko. “Ancient Egyptian Cosmogonies and Cosmology.” In Religion in
Ancient Egypt, edited by Byron E. Shafer. Ithaca, NY, and London: 1991, 88–122.
Primary sources:
PT 301; CT 76, 78–80; Leiden hymns; MT; Khonsu Cosmogony; BOF
ONURIS (ANHUR, INHUR, INHERT)
A hunter deity renowned for capturing a dangerous goddess, Onuris was the local
god of Thinis (This), the home town of the kings of the First Dynasty. He
was usually shown as a bearded man wearing a plumed headdress and carrying a
spear and a coil of rope. As a hunter of threatening animals, Onuris could be
treated as an aspect of Shu or of Horus the Harpooner. The Greeks identified
Onuris with Ares, their god of war.
The epithets of Onuris characterized him as full of strength and vigor. He
was the “bull of Thinis,” “strong of arm” and “high of feather.” Anticrocodile
spells mention a great combat between Onuris-Shu and the evil crocodile Maga.
Onuris, “the good warrior,” was invoked as protector against demons. In royal
tombs of the late New Kingdom, Sopdu and Onuris act as guardians for the dead
king in the snake-infested deserts of the underworld. The name Onuris means
“bringer-back of the distant one.” This refers to a myth in which Onuris left
Egypt to hunt in a remote desert region. His quarry was a wild lion goddess. No
detailed version of this myth survives, but Onuris seems to have caught and
tamed the goddess. He brought her back to Egypt, where she became his bride
under the name of Mehit (Mekhit).
Originally, this Distant Goddess may simply have been a personification of
the deserts of Nubia. Later, she was identified with Hathor-Tefnut, the wandering
Eye of Ra, who left Egypt after quarreling with her father. In this version of
the myth she was persuaded to return to Egypt and civilization by the god
Thoth and her brother, Onuris-Shu. Texts in temples of the Greco-Roman
Period refer to Shu “who brought back his beautiful sister to her father.”
As a further complication, Shu and Tefnut could sometimes be identified
with the sun and the moon, and the goddess Mehit (“the completed one”) could
be a personification of the full moon. Onuris then becomes the god who returned
the lost lunar Eye of Horus and restored the cosmic balance.
See also Eye of Ra; Eyes of Horus; Feline Deities; Horus; Shu and Tefnut
References and further reading:
G. Hart. “Onuris.” In A Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. London and Boston:
1986, 148–150.
H. Junker. Die Onurislegende. Berlin: 1917.
Primary sources:
HMP; Cairo calendar; Mut ritual; Hibis texts
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 177
OSIRIS
Osiris, the “great god” who ruled the Egyptian underworld, was the eldest son
of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. He and his sister-consort, Isis,
ruled Egypt together until Osiris was struck down by his anarchical brother,
Seth. Osiris died and became “the Inert One.” The gods eventually decreed that
Osiris should be resurrected as king and judge of the dead and that his posthumous
son Horus should be made king of the living.
Osiris was usually shown as a mummified king wearing an atef crown and
carrying a crook and flail. His skin can be black or green. These colors may originally
have indicated putrefaction, but they came to symbolize the connection
of Osiris with a cycle of death and regeneration based on plant life. In the
Pyramid Texts, the dead king is frequently identified with Osiris or his stellar
counterpart, Sah (Orion). By the second millennium BCE, this identification was
nominally extended to all the dead. Every aspect of burial and mummification
came to be linked to the mythology of Osiris.
Where, when, and how Osiris was first worshipped is much disputed. It has
been claimed that Osiris was originally a deified Predynastic king, a primitive
vegetation spirit, a jackal god of an early royal necropolis, or a mother goddess.
Even the etymology of his name is uncertain, though it may simply mean the
Mighty One (Death?).
The cult of Osiris only became prominent during the Fifth Dynasty (c.
2494–2345 BCE). He gradually seems to have taken over the attributes of other
funerary deities, such as Andjety of Busiris and Khentamentiu of Abydos. The
latter’s name (Foremost of the Westerners) became an epithet of Osiris, indicating
his leadership of the spirits and demons of the Duat. At all periods there are
a few texts that describe Osiris as a terrifying figure who dispatches demonmessengers
to drag the living into the gloomy realm of the dead.
In most accounts, Osiris was born wearing a crown and was chosen to succeed
his father, Geb, by the sun god himself. A few sources allude to a violent dynastic
struggle between Geb and Osiris. One late text from Kom Ombo even
claims that Osiris was killed and born again after a union between his father,
Geb, and his grandfather, Shu. No detailed accounts of the reign of Osiris or the
manner of his death survive from before the Greco-Roman Period (see “The
Reigns of Shu, Geb, and Osiris” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”).
In the Pyramid Texts, Osiris is either struck down and trampled by his
brother, Seth, or drowned in the Nile. A double death was probably thought
necessary to kill a god permanently. The relatives of Osiris have to search for
and “gather up” the body. Later sources stressed that Seth had deliberately torn
up the body, but in the Pyramid Texts it is probably natural disintegration that
178 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Isis has to reverse with her magic. With the help of the gods Anubis and Thoth,
the body of Osiris is preserved and becomes the first mummy.
The sexual power of Osiris seems to be strong enough to survive his death,
so he is able to make Isis pregnant. Having ensured the continuation of the cosmos
through the conception of Horus, Osiris sinks back into an inert state.
Other deities such as Isis, Thoth, and Horus have to argue his case before a
Divine Tribunal. Osiris is vindicated as a “possessor of maat” (truth, justice).
Since his death was unjust, the creator allows Osiris to leave his mummy and
rule the kingdom of the dead as Wenenefer (Onnophris). This name originally
seems to have meant “the one whose body did not decay,” but it was later interpreted
as “the beneficent one.” The actual raising of Osiris seems to be accomplished
by Horus presenting the power of his Eye to Osiris.
A Middle Kingdom royal ritual equates the body of Osiris with barley and
Seth with the donkeys who thresh the grain by trampling on it. This is the earliest
definite example of the death and resurrection of Osiris being linked to the
annual cycle of the reaping and sowing of crops. Like the virile Min, Osiris
could be worshipped as a god of agricultural fertility. Ithyphallic corn mummies
were made and buried during festivals of Osiris. Their magical purpose was to
give new life to the dead, just as the seed corn grew into new plants. The body
of Osiris could also be shown regenerating inside a tree.
From at least as early as the New Kingdom, all the liquids that came from
the body of Osiris, such as semen, sweat, and pools of putrefaction, were associated
with the life-bringing flood waters of the Nile. In some accounts the body
of Osiris was divided into anything from fourteen to forty-two parts. During the
first millennium BCE, these body parts were said to be buried at sacred sites all
over Egypt. The “tomb” of the left leg of Osiris on the island of Bigah was said
to be the source of the inundation.
The body of Osiris also played an important role in some of the New
Kingdom Underworld Books. In the darkest hour of the night, the soul of the
sun god Ra reached the cave where the body lay and became one with the soul
of Osiris. This allowed Osiris and all the dead to awake and live again. In the
Book of the Dead, Osiris was shown enthroned in the Hall of the Two Truths
overseeing the judgment of the dead. A New Kingdom prayer states that
Osiris is the greatest of the gods because all Egyptians have to come to him in
the end.
The idea of Osiris as a just judge and savior of the dead was prominent during
the last stages of Pharaonic culture. In a story of the Roman Period, a prince
is shown that after death, rich and poor are treated equally and only the good
will survive the judgment of Osiris and enter his paradise.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 179
See also Anubis; Banebdjedet; Benu Bird; Djed Pillar; Eyes of Horus; Heryshef;
Horus; Isis; Moon; Nephthys; Primeval Mound; Ra; Seth; Sokar; Stars and Planets;
Wepwawet
References and further reading:
R. T. Rundle Clarke. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London: 1959, chaps. 3 to 5.
J. G. Griffiths. The Origins of Osiris and His Cult. Leiden: 1980.
E. Otto. Egyptian Art and the Cults of Osiris and Amon. Translated by K. Bosse-
Griffiths. London: 1968.
Primary sources:
PT 219, 532, 576; RDP; Ikhernofret stela; Amenmose stela; BD 17, 175, 181, 185–6;
Osiris hymns; H&S; Ad; BOC; BOE; BOG; Khoiak texts; P. Salt 825;
Lamentations; Setna cycle; I&O
PAKHET
Pakhet was a lion goddess whose name means “the one who tears apart.”
See also Feline Deities
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PRIMEVAL MOUND
The Primeval Mound was the first land to rise above the primeval ocean at the
dawn of time. The Primeval Mound was the place where the spirit of the creator
could take on a form and begin the work of creation. The Mound remained
the center of the cosmos and a place of continuous creation. It could be shown
as a rounded or stepped mound. The pyramidion-shaped benben stone of
Heliopolis may also have been an image of the Primeval Mound. The god who
embodied the Mound was Tatjenen (Tatenen).
Mounds featured in many different creation myths. In Memphis, Tatjenen
was worshipped as a form of the creator god Ptah. At Thebes he became a form
of Amun. A high hill of sand is mentioned in the cosmology of Heliopolis.
Atum, or his erect penis, was sometimes identified with this hill. At
Hermopolis, the primeval forces known as the Ogdoad came together to form a
mound or an island as a place for the primeval egg. Some sources imply that the
broken shell of this “world egg” was used by the creator to make the first land.
When the first being was imagined as a bird, such as a phoenix, a goose, or
an ibis, the Mound was its first perch. The trees that are sometimes shown
growing out of the Mound may be the sacred grove from which falcon gods such
as Horus and Sopdu are said to have emerged. Every major Egyptian temple
claimed that its sanctuary was built on the site of the Primeval Mound. The
sanctuary was the place where the god of the temple became manifest, as the
creator first became manifest on the Mound.
By the New Kingdom, the god Osiris had developed strong associations
with the Primeval Mound. Like the Ogdoad, he could be thought of as being
180 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
buried in or under the Mound. His soul could be shown as a bird perching in a
tree or grove growing from the Mound. In some Underworld Books, the souls of
Ra and Osiris meet in bird form on top of the mound to bring new life to the
dead. The resurrected Osiris was shown enthroned on the Mound at the center
of the underworld.
See also Atum; Benu Bird; Birds; Ogdoad of Hermopolis; Ptah
References and further reading:
R. T. Rundle Clark. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London: 1959, 36–41,
170–178.
A. A. Saleh. “The So-Called ‘Primeval Hill’ and Other Related Elevations in
Ancient Egyptian Mythology.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen
Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 25 (1969): 110–120.
Primary sources:
PT 587, 600; BD 79, 183; BC; Leiden hymns; Ptah hymns; MT
PRIMEVAL OCEAN
The primeval ocean was made up of the waters of chaos.
See also Nun
PTAH
Ptah was a creator deity who made the world with his heart and his tongue. As
Ptah “South of His Wall” he was the chief god of the Egyptian capital,
Memphis. He was usually shown as a bearded man wearing an artisan’s skullcap
and an enveloping cloak or shroud. As “he who is beautiful of face,” Ptah
had skin of celestial blue. His scepter combined the djed symbol of stability
with the was symbol of dominion and the ankh symbol of life. He bestowed
these three qualities on Egyptian kings, who were often crowned in his temple
at Memphis.
Ptah’s consort was the solar lioness Sekhmet. Their son was Nefertem, the
god of the primeval lotus. Ptah was also credited with siring Imhotep, a historical
figure who was deified as god of medicine and learning. The Apis bull, the
most important sacred animal in Egypt, was the earthly messenger and visible
ba (soul or manifestation) of Ptah.
A Mansion of Ptah is mentioned twice in the Pyramid Texts. This may be
the same Mansion of the ka of Ptah (Egyptian—H.
wt ka Ptah; Greek—Aigyptos)
that eventually gave its name to the whole country. In the Middle Kingdom,
Ptah was already known as a divine craftsman who could make a new body for
a dead person. Ptah became the particular patron of metalworkers and sculptors.
That dwarfs were traditionally employed to make jewelry may have been a
factor in the development of a dwarf form (pataikos) of Ptah. The Greeks later
equated Ptah with their bandy-legged smith god, Hephaistos.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 181
Ptah was said to have invented the Opening of the Mouth ritual that was
used to symbolically animate cult and ka statues and reanimate mummies.
Osiris was the mythical prototype for all mummies, so in Coffin Texts spell 62
Ptah helps Horus to “break open” the mouth of Osiris and let him breathe
again. During the New Kingdom, Ptah acquired a reputation as a compassionate
deity. As Ptah “of the Hearing Ear,” he listened to the prayers of ordinary
people.
The text known as the Memphite Theology may date to the late New
Kingdom. In it, Ptah is acclaimed as a self-created deity who made everything
that existed through the powers of thought and speech. This concept is reconciled
with the theology of Heliopolis by identifying Ptah with many of the
deities from the creation myths of that city. Ptah was linked with Nun and
Naunet, the deities of the Primeval Waters who “gave birth” to Atum.
Alternatively, Ptah was said to have shaped the creator Atum with his heart
and tongue. Ptah-Tatjenen was the personification of the Primeval Mound, the
place where creation began. Taking the role of Shu, Ptah was said to have made
the sky and lifted it above the earth as easily as if it were a feather. He united
the Two Lands (Egypt) as Horus in his “great name of Tatjenen.” One of the sophisticated
hymns in Papyrus Leiden I 350 reduces the Egyptian pantheon to
three. Amun was hidden power, Ra the visible power in the heavens, and Ptah
the power manifest on or in the earth.
Ptah was also part of the triple entity Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. This divine group
has been interpreted as symbolizing the whole cycle of regeneration, with Ptah
standing for creation, Sokar for death as metamorphosis, and Osiris for rebirth.
Ptah-Sokar-Osiris was sometimes shown presiding over the judgment of the
dead in the Hall of the Two Truths. He remained important in funerary religion
right into the Roman Period.
See also Apis; Djed Pillar; Imhotep; Nun; Osiris; Primeval Mound; Sokar
References and further reading:
J. P. Allen. “The Means of Creation—Ptah.” In Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of
Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts. 2d ed. Yale Egyptological Studies 2. San
Antonio, TX: 1995, 38–47.
M. Sandman Holmberg. The God Ptah. Lund, Denmark, 1946.
Primary sources:
PT 345; CT 62, 187, 648; BD 82; Ptah hymns; Leiden hymns; MT
RA (RE, PRE)
The sun god who was the ultimate source of light, energy, and life. The first
sunrise, when the sun emerged as a shining bird or a golden child from dark watery
chaos, was the most important event in Egyptian myth. Ra merged with

the primeval form of the creator to make the cosmos and its laws. He ruled as
King of the Gods, first on earth and later from the heavens. Ra was born to his
mother the sky goddess each morning. He passed through many transformations
before being absorbed back into her each evening. Alternatively, the
progress of the sun was pictured as a voyage across the skies above and below
the earth. Each night the divine crew of the solar barque had to overcome the
forces of chaos so that Ra could revive the sleeping dead and renew the world.
The name Ra is simply the Egyptian word for the sun, the most visible of
the divine forces that created and sustained the world. The cult of Ra seems to
have originated in the town that the Egyptians called Iunu and the Greeks
Heliopolis (“city of the sun god”). From the twenty-sixth century BCE to the
Roman Period, all rulers of Egypt called themselves Sons of Ra. The Enemies of
Ra were the enemies of Egypt and maat (the divine order). The close identification
between Ra and the divine order was expressed by making the goddess
Maat into Ra’s best-loved daughter.
In some Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, the dead king claims to rest
like the sun in the west and shine like the sun in the east. In others, he humbly
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 183
Figure 38. The ram-headed night sun in his boat protected by the mehen snake. From an
Underworld Book on the walls of a royal tomb. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
asks for a place among the spirits who escort the “reed-float” or papyrus boat of
Ra across the Winding Waterway of the sky. In the Coffin Texts of the Middle
Kingdom there is an increased emphasis on the dangers of this voyage. When
the Night Boat enters the caverns under the earth or within the body of the sky
goddess, it is attacked by hostile forces such as the all-devouring chaos monster
Apophis. Surviving temple rituals show that every Egyptian king was expected
to play an active magical role to help the sun god to triumph over the forces of
darkness and chaos.
The secret Underworld Books that decorate New Kingdom royal tombs
link the fate of deceased kings and all the dead with the voyage of the sun (see
“The Solar Cycle” under “Cyclical Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). Just as
morning light wakes sleepers in life, the passing sun god reanimated the mummies
of the virtuous dead and his own mysterious nocturnal forms. In the underworld,
Ra himself was mainly shown as a ram-headed man, or a scarab
within a solar disk, in the cabin of the solar barque (see Figure 3Cool. This central
figure is sometimes labeled as the “flesh” of Ra. For much of the voyage the
sun god is as passive as the corpse of Osiris while a huge array of other deities
protect and defend him. The forceful power of the sun is concentrated in the
goddess known as the Eye of Ra, who often guards the prow of the solar barque.
Much solar mythology was expressed by images rather than narratives.
The solar cycle could be summarized by showing Khepri (the scarab beetle),
Ra-Horakhty (a falcon-headed man), and Ra-Atum (a mature man wearing the
Double Crown) together in the solar barque. Khepri was the self-generating sun
of dawn. Ra-Horakhty (Ra-Horus of the Double Horizon) was the triumphant
sun who rose in the east as ruler. Ra-Atum was the weary setting sun whose
death was an essential part of the cycle of renewal. The sun god could also be
depicted with four rams’ heads representing his four bas (souls or manifestations)
(see Figure 19). The four souls are often named as Ra, Khepri, Atum, and
Osiris. In some Underworld Books, Ra mysteriously merges with the corpse of
Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. When they become “the United One,” the
dead can reawaken and the world can be remade.
The fact that the sun god was crucial to the theology of kingship may have
led to a rather uncomplimentary portrayal of Ra in Egyptian literature. In some
narrative myths, Ra appears as an aging king unable to prevent treachery and rebellion
among his subjects (see “The True Name of Ra” and “The Destruction
of Humanity” under “Linear Time” in “Mythical Time Lines”). The Book of
the Heavenly Cow tells how the weary Ra withdrew to the heavens after brutally
punishing the humans who had rebelled against his rule on earth. Egyptian
Instruction Texts sometimes interpret invasions or civil strife as punishments
from the angry sun god.
184 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
In the cycle of myths centered on Horus, son of Isis, Ra is a remote authority
figure who does not always support the weak against the strong. When the
infant Horus is poisoned, his mother’s screams of anguish stop the solar barque
from moving. This challenged both the power of Ra and the authority of the
king, whose ritual task it was to secure a “free passage” for the sun. Ra gives in
to the righteous anger of Isis and sends his deputy Thoth to heal Horus. An alternative
view of the sun god is found in a Greco-Roman Period narrative about
the Eye of Ra. The wise god Thoth persuades the Eye goddess to return to her
father Ra by telling her fables that show that the sun god is all-seeing and frequently
intervenes to establish justice on earth.
See also Amun; Apophis; Aten; Atum; Boats; Eye of Ra; Feline Deities; Hathor;
Horus; Horus the Child; Khepri; Lotus; Maat; Nut; Osiris; Benu Bird; Sia and Hu;
Snakes; Thoth
References and further reading:
J. Assmann. Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun, and the
Crisis of Polytheism. Translated by A. Alcock. London and New York: 1995.
E. Hornung., The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity. Translated by D.
Warburton. New York: 1990, 71–114.
S. Quirke. The Cult of Ra Sun Worship in Ancient Egypt. London: 2001.
Primary sources:
PT 257, 311, 334; Ipuur; KASP; Ad; BC; BOG; BOD; BOE; BHC; LofR; Solar hymns;
True Name; H&S; Magical statue texts; Ankhsheshonq; LWD; EofS.
RAET-TAWY (RAIYET)
Raet-Tawy was the female sun of the Two Lands, a female counterpart of Ra.
See also Horus the Child; Montu
RA-HORAKHTY
Ra-Horakhty was the solar falcon who represented the sun god at the zenith of
his power.
See also Horus; Ra
RENENUTET (ERNUTET, HERMOUTHIS, THERMOUTHIS)
Renenutet was a cobra goddess of fertility and luck whose name meant “the
snake who nourishes.” She could be represented by various combinations of
snake and woman, including a cobra-headed woman suckling a child.
Renenutet was associated with the nourishing and healing powers of mother’s
milk and with food of all kinds. As the deity who controlled the harvest, she
was the mother of the corn god, Neper. In the rich farmlands of the Fayum she
was worshipped as the consort of the crocodile god Sobek and the mother of
Horus.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 185
In the Pyramid Texts, Renenutet is one of the names given to the firebreathing
uraeus on the king’s brow. She could be identified with other head
gear and clothes worn by the dead king to cause gods and demons to fear him.
Renenutet was also one of the divine foster mothers who nourished the royal ka
(vital force) of each king.
Even in her cobra manifestation, Renenutet was revered by farmers and
housewives as a gracious and beautiful goddess. The cobra-shaped bowls and
figurines commonly found in Ancient Egyptian houses probably represented
Renenutet, the Mistress of Provisions. As Lady of the Granaries, she helped to
protect Egypt’s vital grain supplies from rats and other vermin. In the myth
Astarte and the Sea, Renenutet is chosen by the gods to present the tribute demanded
by the rapacious sea. This was probably because she was responsible for
the good things of the earth.
Renenutet should probably be regarded as identical with Renenet, a goddess
who formed a pair with Shai, the god of fate. Renenet was said to be “on the
shoulder” of deserving people from birth, bringing them good fortune. In the
Greco-Roman Period, her role as goddess of fortune was gradually taken over by
Isis-Thermouthis.
See also Astarte; Shai; Snakes
References and further reading:
G. Hart. “Renenutet.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London:
1986, 182–185.
J. Leibovitch. “Gods of Agriculture and Welfare in Ancient Egypt.” Journal of Near
Eastern Studies 12 (1953): 73–113.
Primary sources:
PT 256, 622; CT 575; Astarte and the Sea
SATET (SATIS) AND ANUKET (ANUKIS)
Satet and Anuket were two goddesses worshipped in the region of the First
Cataract of the Nile. Satet, Lady of Elephantine, was shown as a mature woman
wearing a version of the crown of Upper Egypt decorated with antelope horns.
Anuket, Lady of Nubia, was shown as a young woman wearing a feather headdress.
Her sacred animal was the gazelle, a creature admired by the Egyptians
for its delicate beauty. Both goddesses are called daughters of Ra, but from the
late Middle Kingdom onward they formed a triad with Khnum, the ram god of
Elephantine (modern Aswan). It is not clear whether Satet and Anuket were regarded
as mother and daughter or as senior and junior consorts. Khnum, Satet,
and Anuket were probably treated as a group because all three were linked to
the annual Nile flood.
186 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
A rock shrine on the island of Elephantine was one of Egypt’s most ancient
holy places. It was often thought of as the “source” of the inundation. Riverworn
pebbles in the forms of pregnant or nursing women found in the shrine
suggest that it was dedicated to a fertility goddess. In later times the most important
nilometer in Egypt was situated in the temple of Satet on Elephantine.
This measured the height of the inundation as it reached the Egyptian border.
Satet was associated with the purifying powers of Nile water and desert spring
water. Her sacred animal, the antelope, was renowned for its ability to find water
in the desert. The Pyramid Texts mention the four water jars of Satet that
are used to purify the dead king so that he can take his place among the gods.
By the Greco-Roman Period, Satet (Mistress of the Water of Life) was identified
with the star goddess Sopdet-Isis. The heliacal rising of Sopdet (Sirius) coincided
with the coming of the inundation.
This awe-inspiring natural phenomenon became linked to the myth of the
return of the Distant Goddess, the Eye of Ra. Satet seems to have represented
the ferocious aspect of this goddess. In Pyramid Text 439, Satet, the Fiery One,
claims to be a deity more powerful than Ra. In the Coffin Texts, Satet defends
the dead against dangers from the south with her pain-inflicting arrows. As protector
of Upper Egypt, Satet was sometimes paired with the warrior god Montu.
Anuket, the beloved daughter of Ra, usually represented the pacified form of
the Eye goddess. She controlled the fertilizing power of the Nile flood. Her
breast milk nourished and healed, and she was one of the divine foster mothers
of every Egyptian king.
See also Eye of Ra; Khnum; Stars and Planets
References and further reading:
H. te Velde. “Some Remarks on the Structure of Egyptian Divine Triads.” Journal
of Egyptian Archaeology 57 (1971): 80–86.
D. Valbelle. Satis et Anoukis. Mainz: 1981.
Primary sources:
PT 439, 508; CT 313; Famine stela
SEKHMET (SAKHMET)
Sekhmet was an aggressive solar goddess who was the instrument of divine retribution.
She was shown with the body of a woman and a leonine head, often surmounted
by a sun disk. Death first came into the world when the Eye of Ra was
sent down as Sekhmet to punish rebellious humanity. “She who dances on blood”
nearly destroyed the whole human race before she was tricked into stopping. As
humans were said to have sprung from the tears of the Eye of Ra, Sekhmet was
slaughtering her own children. She was a more protective mother to the kings of
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 187
Egypt, and in Memphis she was
worshipped as the consort of Ptah
and the mother of Nefertem.
In the Pyramid Texts,
Sekhmet was named as a parent
of the king when he was reborn
into the celestial afterlife. In the
Coffin Texts, she was identified
with the Red Crown of Lower
Egypt and with the fire-spitting
uraeus: “the serpent who is upon
her father.” She was said to be
“the one who wields the knife”
on the night of the great battle
between the forces of order and
chaos. In New Kingdom funerary
literature, Sekhmet often
stands in the solar barque to defend
Ra from the Apophis serpent.
Users of the Book of the
Dead hoped to destroy their supernatural
enemies “as Sekhmet
the Great would.”
King Rameses II claimed that Sekhmet the Great rode with him in his chariot,
ready to destroy the enemy with her fiery breath. She seems to have embodied
the negative qualities of the heat of the sun that could lead to sunstroke,
drought, famines, and epidemics. Of all the archer goddesses in the Egyptian
pantheon, Sekhmet was the most dreaded. Her arrows came to be personified as
seven messengers who inflicted plague and destruction on humanity. As the
controller of disease demons, Sekhmet became a patron goddess of medicine.
From the Old Kingdom onward, the priests of Sekhmet seem to have been specialists
in healing magic.
Sekhmet had to be propitiated during the dangerous transition from the
old to the new year, when infectious diseases were a particular danger. Spells
and rituals were used to transform the raging solar lioness into a beneficent
goddess. From the New Kingdom onward, Sekhmet was mainly thought of as
the aggressive aspect of greater goddesses: first of Hathor, then of Mut, and finally
of Isis.
See also Bastet; Eye of Ra; Feline deities; Hathor; Mut; Ptah

References and further reading:
P. Germond. Sekhmet et la protection du monde. Geneva: 1981.
G. Pinch. Magic in Ancient Egypt. Austin, TX: 1995, 37–38, 138–143.
Primary sources:
PT 248; CT 311; BD 57, 145, 179b; BHC; Qadesh inscriptions; Book of the Last Day
of the Year; Sekhmet litany; Magical statue texts
SERQET (SERKET, SELKIS)
The goddess Serqet was usually shown as a woman with a scorpion on her head
(see Figure 20) or as a scorpion with the head and torso of a woman. She controlled
the breath of life and was one of the four goddesses who traditionally
protected the body and vital organs of a dead person. Serqet was also one of the
formidable deities who defended the divine mother and the boat of the sun god.
Scorpion charmers invoked the power of Serqet to drive away scorpions and
snakes.
Scorpion stings were a common hazard in Ancient Egypt. The female scorpion
is larger than the male and has a greater supply of poison. Representations of
Serqet always show the tail raised in the stinging position. Scorpion stings cause a
burning pain and shortness of breath and can be fatal to young children and the
elderly. This seems to have led to the belief that Serqet could help the dead to
breathe again as part of the process of rebirth. To indicate that Serqet was a benevolent
goddess, she was sometimes represented by a harmless type of water scorpion
rather than the poisonous type. She was shown on the east side of coffins
and canopic chests as a guardian goddess. In the Book of Two Ways, Serqet is one
of the deities who guards a bend in the river on the watery route to paradise.
Scorpions and snakes were classed together as enemies of humanity and the
divine order, and many spells were devised to repel them. The Egyptians hoped
that by honoring the scorpion goddess, they could save themselves from all poisonous
creatures. Serqet defended the sun god from the great snake Apophis,
and she appears in some narrative spells as the helper of her “sister” Isis.
One spell to drive out poison includes a story about how the pregnant Isis
fled to the marshes to hide from her brother, Seth. On her journey she was protected
by seven scorpions, who were probably a sevenfold manifestation of
Serqet. Isis tried to shelter in a village. A rich woman refused to let Isis into her
house, but a poor marsh girl welcomed the goddess into her hut. The scorpions
were angry about this and decided to punish the rich woman. They placed all
their poison in the tail of Tfn, the leading scorpion. Tfn crept into the rich
woman’s house and stung her baby son. Isis was wakened by the rich woman’s
cries and took pity on the child. She was able to drive out the burning poison
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 189
and make the child breathe again because she knew the true names of the seven
scorpions. The rich woman was so grateful that she gave all her possessions to
the poor girl in order to please the goddess. Myths of this type may have been
acted out at a festival known from the Roman Period during which devotees of
Isis handled live scorpions.
See also Horus the Child; Isis; Sons of Horus
References and further reading:
F. Känel. “La nèpe et le scorpion”: un monographie sur la désse Serket. Paris: 1984.
P. Vernus. The Gods of Ancient Egypt. Translated by Jane Marie Todd. London and
New York: 1998, 35.
Primary sources:
PT 308, 362, 555; BTW; True Name; PBM 9997 + 10309; Magical statue texts;
Metternich Stela
SESHAT (SECHAT)
Seshat was the goddess who measured and recorded the world. As Lady of
Builders she was the patroness of architecture, astronomy, and mathematics.
Known as “she who is foremost in the library,” Seshat was an assistant or female
counterpart of Thoth, the god of wisdom and knowledge. She and Thoth
fixed the length of a king’s reign by inscribing his name on the leaves of the
ished tree at Heliopolis.
Seshat usually wears a panther skin, a symbol of priestly office. She sometimes
carries a palm frond carved with notches to mark the passing years. Her
mysterious headdress consists of a seven-pointed star (or seven-petaled flower)
topped by an object that may be a bow or an inverted pair of horns. The goddess
known as Sefkhat-abwy (the Seven-Pointed One) is probably Seshat under another
name.
As goddess of writing, Seshat was the keeper of royal annals and genealogies.
She was shown recording the booty gained by kings in battle, perhaps as a
reminder that a share was due to the gods. Seshat was even said to descend into
the underworld to record everything in the realm of the dead.
From as early as the Second Dynasty, she was shown assisting kings to lay
out the foundations for temples and align them with stars and planets. In the divine
realm, Seshat was in charge of building the mansions of the gods. She was
sometimes assisted in this task by the gods of sight and hearing. Seshat also
built “mansions in the West” for the fortunate dead.
Seshat was occasionally identified as an aspect of another helper of the
dead, the goddess Nephthys. In a Coffin Texts spell, Seshat is said to be angry at
a child she gives birth to, just as later tradition made Nephthys reject her son,
Anubis. In other Coffin Texts, Thoth and Seshat “bring writings to a man in the

realm of the dead.” These writings were the spells that would help the dead person
to vanquish the terrors of the underworld and become a powerful spirit.
See also Nephthys; Thoth
References and further reading:
G. A. Wainwright. “Seshat and the Pharaoh.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 26
(1940): 30–40.
Primary sources:
PT 364; CT 84, 709, 849
SETH (SET, SUTEKH)
Seth, the tumultuous god who was the enemy of his brother, Osiris, and the rival
of Horus, was one of the five children of Nut and Geb. Seth’s sister,
Nephthys, and the foreign goddesses Anat and Astarte were among his consorts.
Seth acts as a catalyst in Egyptian myth. His thoughtless actions are bad in
themselves but can lead to good outcomes, such as that of Osiris becoming the
ruler of the underworld. The brute strength of Seth was needed by the gods to
defend the solar barque from the chaos monster.

The cult of Seth seems to have originated in Upper Egypt, though he was
later identified with foreign gods worshipped in the eastern Delta. In the Early
Dynastic Period, Seth, Lord of Ombos, was the chief god of the eastern desert
and its rich gold mines. In the western desert he remained the Lord of the Oases
and their vineyards into the Greco-Roman Period. At all periods, Seth was associated
with dangerous aspects of the desert such as flash floods and sandstorms.
Many desert animals, particularly oryxes, wild asses, and the mythical griffin,
were considered Sethian creatures. Seth himself was represented by a sinister
imaginary animal. In myth, Seth takes the form of many different animals, such
as bulls, pigs, hippopotami, wild asses, crocodiles, and panthers, to carry out destructive
acts.
From the Pyramid Texts onward, Seth was accused of striking down Osiris.
Vague allusions to Seth trampling or rending Osiris were eventually transformed
into stories of complex murder plots. The two gods were often presented
as opposites. Osiris could stand for order and everything that was
Egyptian. Seth could stand for disorder and everything that was foreign. Osiris
ruled the fertile black land of the Nile valley, and Seth the barren red land of the
deserts. As the god “who causes storms and clouds,” Seth was also the natural
opponent of the solar sky falcon Horus the Elder. Alternatively, this conflict
192 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 41. A votive ostracon in Cairo Museum with a drawing of Seth. He is shown with the head
of an unknown animal. (Courtesy of Geraldine Pinch)
could be stated in terms of a dynastic feud and a struggle for justice between
Seth the Usurper and Horus the Younger, the posthumous son of Osiris.
During this long struggle Seth was wounded in the testicles and Horus in
the eyes. In the New Kingdom story, the Contendings of Horus and Seth, the
two gods alternate between arguing their cases in front of the Divine Tribunal
and fighting each other. Seth’s main weapon is a gigantic mace or was scepter
that only he can lift. He is presented as massively strong and monumentally
stupid, like a giant in a fairy tale.
In temples of Horus, the story ends with a total military victory for Horus
and annihilation for Seth and his followers. In other sources, terms for peace are
agreed so that the Two Lords (Horus and Seth) can work together to unite Egypt
and defend the cosmos. One of the secrets revealed in the royal Underworld
Books was the joining of the Two Lords into one double-headed being to combat
the forces of chaos in the hour of greatest danger. As “the great of strength in the
Boat of Millions,” Seth speared and bound Apophis every night (see Figure 43).
The concept of the perpetual struggle between Seth and Apophis was paired
with a story of a single combat that took place in the mythical past. When the
world was still directly ruled by the gods, Seth fought Yam, the insatiable sea,
who was threatening to swallow the earth. The ending is missing in the only
narrative version of this myth, but several New Kingdom spells claim that the
magician will overcome demons just as Seth once overcame the sea monster.
Other New Kingdom texts describe Seth as committing a series of sacrilegious
crimes such as felling sacred trees and hunting sacred fish, birds, and animals.
He was also notorious for breaking sexual taboos. His lustful nature leads
him into inappropriate heterosexual and homosexual encounters. In one myth
he is punished for mating with the “seed goddess,” who personified the semen
of the creator. In another, Seth’s attempt to sexually dominate his rival, Horus,
leads to the unnatural birth of the moon god Thoth.
From the late New Kingdom onward, ritual scripts and narrative myths
deal with attacks by Seth on the body of Osiris. Secretions from the corpse were
said to play a vital role in making the Nile rise, crops grow, and women conceive
children, so these were attacks on life itself. Seth disguises himself to try
to steal the amulets protecting the body of Osiris. He is always recognized and
brutally punished by Anubis and Thoth. At Edfu the priesthood of Horus celebrated
a day of castrating Seth and “reducing him to pieces” in retaliation for
Seth’s mutilation of the body of Osiris and the Eye of Horus. The actual ritual
involved the sacrifice and dismemberment of a wild ass in front of a cult state
of Osiris.
By the Greco-Roman Period, Seth was vilified in most temples. The Greeks
identified Seth with the monster Typhon, who rebelled against the gods and had
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 193
to be destroyed by Zeus. Seth-Typhon was invoked in spells to kill the magician’s
enemies as he had killed his own brother, Osiris, or to separate lovers as
he had separated Osiris and Isis.
See also Anat; Anubis; Anti; Apophis; Astarte; Cattle; Eyes of Horus;
Hippopotamus Goddesses; Horus; Isis; Moon; Nephthys; Osiris; Thoth
References and further reading:
J. G. Griffiths. The Conflict of Horus and Seth from Egyptian and Classical
Sources. Liverpool: 1960.
H. te Velde. Seth, God of Confusion. Leiden: 1977.
Primary sources:
PT 215, 222, 356, 359, 477; BD 39; H&S; Astarte and the Sea; P. Leiden I 343 + 345;
P. Salt 825; PJ; PDM XII; PGM XXXVI; I&O
SEVEN HATHORS
The seven manifestations of Hathor presided over births and deaths. They pronounced
the ultimate fate of all humans.
See also Cattle; Hathor; Shai
SHAI (SHAY)
Shai was the personification of destiny. Every individual had his or her own
shai, a personal destiny that helped to make that person unique. As a god, Shai
might be shown in either human or snake form. He could be identified with any
of the creator deities who shaped the destiny of the whole universe.
Shai was one of the deities credited with fixing the length of a person’s life
and the manner of his or her death. He also came to be associated with good or
bad fortune in life. In the city of Alexandria, Shai was transformed into a snake
god of fate and luck known as Agathos Daimon.
Shai was often paired with the goddesses Meskhenet or Renenutet, who
presided over the vulnerable periods of a person’s birth and infancy. In the Book
of the Dead, Shai can be shown next to the scales in which the heart of the deceased
person is weighed. Like the goddesses Meskhenet and Renenutet, he occasionally
took the form of a “birth-brick” with a human head. These bricks
were the supports on which Egyptian women squatted to give birth. As deities
of the birth-bricks, Shai and his female counterparts helped the souls of the deceased
to be reborn.
Egyptian thinkers debated how far a person’s fate was predestined. Some
Instruction Texts took the pessimistic view that it was impossible to evade
your fate, but hymns and prayers claimed that gods such as Amun had the
power to change a person’s destiny and bestow extra years of life. A New
Kingdom story tells how a longed-for son was born to the king and queen of
Egypt. On the night of his birth, the Seven Hathors announced that the prince
194 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
was destined to be killed by a snake, a crocodile, or a dog. The king tried to save
his son by shutting him in a remote palace away from all animals. When he
grew up, the prince begged to be released on the grounds that his fate was “in
the heart of god.” He traveled to the land of Naharin and married a princess
who had also been imprisoned by her father. She saved the prince from his first
fate, the snake. The prince managed to escape from his second fate, the dog,
only to be seized by his third fate, the crocodile.
The end of the story is missing, but the last words imply that the prince
may be able to save himself by fighting the crocodile’s enemy. The prince in
this story seems to have much in common with a god called Shed who became
popular at the end of the New Kingdom. Shed, whose name means savior or
protector, was shown as a young prince overcoming dangerous animals such as
snakes, crocodiles, and lions. The story of the Doomed Prince seems to dramatize
the Egyptian hope that human courage and divine intervention could save
an individual from a bad shai.
See also Crocodiles; Hathor; Renenutet
References and further reading:
S. Morenz. Egyptian Religion. London and Ithaca, NY: 1973, 66–74.
J. Quaegebeur. Le dieu égyptien Shai dans la religion et l’onomastique. Orientalia
Lovaniensia Analecta 2. Louvain, Belgium: 1975.
Primary sources:
BD 125; Amenemope; DP
SHED
Shed was a savior deity, shown as a prince wearing a circlet decorated with the
head of an antelope.
See also Horus the Child; Shai
SHENTAYET
Shentayet was a cow goddess often regarded as a form of Isis.
See also Cattle; Sokar
SHEZMU
Shezmu was the wine-press god who slaughtered the enemies of the king and
the sun god.
SHU (SCHU, CHOU) AND TEFNUT (TEFENET)
Shu and Tefnut were the children of the creator sun god. They were the first divine
couple and formed the second generation in the family tree of deities
known as the Ennead of Heliopolis. Shu was the god of dry, life-giving air and

sunlight, who first separated the earth from the sky. Tefnut may have been associated
with some types of moisture, such as morning dew.
Shu and Tefnut were produced by an androgynous creator god, usually identified
as Atum or Ra-Atum. He is said to have masturbated and swallowed his
own semen in order to reproduce himself. As a result of this act, Shu was
sneezed out and Tefnut was spat out. Atum then lovingly embraced his
“fledglings.”
At first, Shu and Tefnut were not fully differentiated from the creator. In
the Coffin Texts they are often treated as a trinity: “the one who developed into
three.” This may be why the monotheistic theology of King Akhenaten found a
place for Shu and Tefnut as aspects of the god of light. Some early statues of
Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti, probably represent them as Shu and
Tefnut.
In more orthodox Egyptian thought, some kind of separation was necessary
for the process of creation to continue. Texts ranging in date from the Middle
196 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 42. Shu separates his children, the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. Painting on a
coffin from the Third Intermediate Period. (Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge)
Kingdom to the Greco-Roman Period describe how Shu and Tefnut left their father,
either accidentally or in order to explore. They were soon lost in the darkness
that surrounded the creator. The creator became lonely and anxious. He
took the “sole eye from his forehead” and sent her out to seek for his lost children.
Some versions imply that Shu and Tefnut were lost for a very long period.
They seem to be adult when they return with the Eye of Ra.
The first sexual union of male (Shu) and female (Tefnut) produced two children,
the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. These two passionately embraced
until they were separated by their father, Shu. This act of separation is
one of the most commonly depicted mythical scenes in Egyptian art. Shu is
shown in human form, with a feather on his head, trampling on the body of Geb
and holding up the body of Nut. Shu becomes a cosmic giant “whose stride is
the length of the sky.” He was assisted by various deities known as “the supporters
of Shu.” The most important of these were the eight Heh gods whom
Shu created out of his own bodily fluids.
By separating the earth and sky and making a void filled with air and sunlight,
Shu allowed the process of creation to begin. He therefore counted as a
creator deity. He was also one of the deities said to have ruled over Egypt after
the departure of the sun god to the heavens. One list gives him a reign of 700
years. According to a late myth, he eventually lost his throne and his consort,
Tefnut, to his son, Geb.
Tefnut, “the greatly beloved daughter,” was sometimes identified with two
other “daughters” of the creator sun god: Maat, the personification of the divine
order, and the Eye of Ra. In some versions of the story of the Eye goddess,
Hathor-Tefnut, the fiery solar eye, quarrels with her father and goes to live in
the desert in the form of a savage lioness. Her brother, Shu, is sometimes
named as the god who persuades her to return.
Shu and Tefnut were also identified with the twin Lions of the Horizon.
They are shown as two lions or spotted great cats, facing away from each other
with the sun on the horizon between them. These lions had various temporal
meanings. They could represent yesterday and tomorrow or two forms of time:
nh.h.
(eternal recurrence) and d-- t (eternal sameness).
See also Aten; Atum; Eye of Ra; Feline Deities; Geb; Maat; Onuris
References and further reading:
H. te Velde. “Schu.” In Lexicon der Ägyptologie V. Wiesbaden: 1984, 735–737 (in
English).
S. West. “The Greek Version of the Legend of Tefnut.” Journal of Egyptian
Archaeology 55 (1969): 161–183.
Primary sources:
PT 600; CT 76, 78, 80; BD 17; BHC; HMP; MT; BRP; Ismailia naos; EofS
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 197
SIA AND HU (HW)
Sia and Hu were the principles of creative thought and speech personified as
gods. Sia has also been translated as perception or insightful planning and Hu
as authority or authoritative utterance. Sia and Hu, along with a third deity,
Heka (Magic), were the forces the creator used to make the world and the divine
order.
As deities, Sia and Hu were said to have sprung from blood that dripped
from the penis of Ra. The two gods were regarded as the constant companions
of the creator sun god. In the Pyramid Texts, Sia “who is at the right hand of
Ra” is in charge of wisdom and carrying the god’s book. He is also described
as being “in” the eye of Ra, so that the sun god can see and understand everything
that happens in the world. In the Coffin Texts, Hu is called “the one
who speaks in the darkness,” presumably the primeval dark before light was
created.
A Middle Kingdom text asks how the creator, who has Sia, Hu, and Maat
(the divine order) always with him, can have allowed Egypt to descend into
chaos. In New Kingdom Underworld Books, Sia and Hu are often shown standing
in the solar barque with Ra. Sia acts as a spokesman for Ra during the nocturnal
journey of the sun. He gives the order to open each of the twelve gates of
the underworld.
See also Eye of Ra; Maat; Ra
References and further reading:
S. Bickel. La cosmogonie égyptienne avant le Nouvel Empire. Orbis Biblicus et
Orientalis 134. Fribourg, Switzerland, and Göttingen, Germany: 1994, 100–112.
E. Hornung. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many.
Translated by J. Baines. Ithaca, NY: 1982, 76–77.
Primary sources:
PT 250; CT 261, 335, 1128, 1136; BD 174; Ipuur; BOG; BOD
SNAKES
Antisnake spells are among the oldest of all Egyptian texts, and many magical
objects show deities helping humanity by overcoming poisonous snakes.
Mythical snakes were found on both sides of the battle between order and
chaos. Several creator deities had a primeval snake form. The ability to shed
their skins made snakes an obvious symbol of eternal renewal. The cobra, who
rears up and spits poison at anything that threatens her young, was adopted as a
general symbol of female divinity. The uraeus on royal crowns had a mythical
precedent in the cobra goddess who protected the creator sun god in the First
Time. Yet the greatest enemy of the sun god was Apophis, a giant serpent with

crushing coils and hypnotic eyes. An Egyptian proverb states: “One should welcome
the uraeus and spit on Apophis.”
The Greek term uraeus probably comes from an Egyptian word iaret,
which means “the one who rears up.” When the creator god Ra-Atum lost his
children in the dark primeval waters, he sent his Sole Eye to look for them. The
Eye goddess returned with the lost children to find that Ra-Atum had grown a
new eye. She was enraged, but Ra-Atum transformed her into a snake with
power over all other deities. Her fiery poison destroyed anyone who challenged
the sun god and his rightful heirs. All snake goddesses could be identified with
this fire-spitting cobra, whatever their other functions. Isis was clever enough
to turn this serpent power against Ra in order to win the throne of Egypt for her
future son. When the sun god withdrew to the heavens, he charged Geb with
controlling the dangerous serpents who lived under the earth.
Three important cobra goddesses were associated with the three environments
where snakes were most often encountered: marshes (Wadjyt), cornfields
(Renenutet), and desert hills (Meretseger). Like the divine cow, the cobra goddess
could be shown protecting an infant god in a papyrus thicket. This god is
sometimes named as Nefertem, the child in the lotus. Wadjyt’s name links her
with Egyptian words meaning papyrus and freshness or greenness. She could
embody the constantly renewed vitality of the marsh vegetation.
Renenutet, “the good snake,” was the goddess of fields, granaries, and
kitchens. She ensured a bountiful harvest for the living and continuing nourishment
for the kas of the dead. The snake deity, Nehebkau (“the numerous of
coils”), was considered to be her son. In the Pyramid Texts, Nehebkau feeds the
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 199
Figure 43. Seth spears the chaos serpent Apophis when he attacks the solar barque. The barque is
towed through the Underworld by jackals and cobras. Illustration from the funerary papyrus of
Herweben. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
dead king and acts as his messenger, but only after he has been subdued by the
finger of Atum.
Meretseger was another snake deity who was not always benevolent. She
was the goddess of the pyramid-shaped mountain peak that overlooked the
Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens at Thebes (see Figure 5). Her
name means “the one who loves silence.” The artists who worked on the royal
tombs felt that they needed to propitiate Meretseger before they could work
safely in her domain. One of them describes Meretseger as striking like a lion
when she was angry but coming like a sweet breeze when she was appeased.
Meretseger’s mountain was one of the entrances to the underworld. Snakes
were said to sleep below the earth like the dead every night and come alive
again by day. The visions of the underworld painted on the walls of the royal
tombs writhe with snakes. Snake-headed demons and fire-spitting snakes punish
evil souls. Each of the twelve gates of the underworld has a snake guardian,
and the solar barque and the corpse of Osiris were protected by the coils of the
mehen snake, a kind of counter-Apophis (see, for example, Figure 3Cool. Time itself
was depicted as an endless snake that swallows up the hours. One of these
images, the “Ouroboros” or “tail-in-mouth” serpent, passed into other cultures
as a symbol of infinity (see Figure 1Cool.
See also Amun; Atum; Apophis; Eye of Ra; Ra; Renenutet; Shai; Two Ladies
References and further reading:
E. Hornung. The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity. London and New York:
1990, 74–84, 155–163.
A. I. Sadek. Popular Religion in Egypt during the New Kingdom. Hildesheim,
Germany: 1987, 118–124.
Primary sources:
Amenemope; Neferabu stela; BD 87; True Name; Ad; BOG; BOE; BHC
SOBEK (SUCHOS)
Sobek, the “raging one,” was shown as a crocodile or as a man with the head of
crocodile wearing an atef crown. He was mainly worshipped in areas of the
country where the Nile crocodile was a dangerous predator. Sobek was said to
be the son of Neith, a goddess who embodied the primeval waters. His consort
was sometimes Hathor and sometimes the harvest goddess Renenutet. From
the New Kingdom onward, he was regarded as a form of the creator sun god “in
his identity of Sobek-Ra.”
At Krokodilopolis in the Fayum, Sobek was praised as the one “who rose
out of the primeval waters, the great male being, the lord of the floating islands.”
He was honored everywhere as a god of water. Sobek was the Lord of the

Winding Waterway, the Lord of the Nile, and the one “who greens the Two
Banks,” an epithet he shared with the inundation god Hapy. As Lord of the
Marsh, Sobek was particularly associated with the marshes that lay between
the Nile valley and the edge of the desert. In the celestial realm, Sobek inhabited
a glittering mansion in the liminal region of the horizon.
People who worked on the Nile had good reason to fear and respect
crocodiles. Sobek seems to have become the patron god of fishermen. A myth
mentioned in the Coffin Texts tells how Isis cut off the hands of her son Horus
and threw them in the river. Ra ordered Sobek to retrieve the hands of Horus.
Sobek was unable to do so until he invented a fish trap to catch the hands.
Many fish were regarded as creatures of chaos, so as a fish eater, Sobek was
helping to establish order.
On other occasions, however, Sobek was counted among the enemies of the
divine order. In one spell in the Coffin Texts, Sobek “the rebel” is held responsible
for mutilating the body of the good god Osiris. Sobek was sometimes identified
with the crocodile form of Seth, the slayer of Osiris. The Greco-Roman
Period temple of Kom Ombo was jointly dedicated to Horus the Elder and
Sobek. It is possible that at this site Sobek represented an acceptable manifesta-

tion of Seth and that the whole temple celebrated the reconciliation of the Two
Lords for the good of Egypt.
See also Crocodiles; Hapy; Neith; Renenutet; Seth
References and further reading:
A. H. Gardiner. “Hymns to Sobek in a Ramesseum Papyrus.” Revue d’Egyptologie
11 (1957): 43–56.
Primary sources:
PT 317; CT 158, 160, 268, 285, 991; BD 113; Kom Ombo texts; BOF
SOKAR (SOKER, SOKARIS)
The ancient god of the cemeteries of Memphis, Sokar became the god of death
as a transformative process. His qualities were often combined with those of
the chief god of Memphis and the god of the dead to form the tripartite deity
Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. The annual Festival of Sokar was one of the great events of
the Egyptian ritual calendar.
202 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
Figure 45. Sokar, shown as a falcon-headed god, overcomes a chaos serpent in a cave
guarded by the Aker sphinx. Detail from the Amduat (Book of that which is in the
Underworld) painted in the tomb of Thutmose III at Thebes. (Courtesy of Nigel Strudwick)
Sokar could be represented by a human or hawk head emerging from a
mound or chest. He could also be shown as a shrouded hawk or as a hawkheaded
man or mummy. The silver hawk-headed anthropoid coffin of
Sheshonq I (c. 945–924 BCE) was probably intended to transform the dead king
into Sokar.
As a chthonic deity, Sokar had to be appeased when canals were dug, fields
were plowed, or underground tombs were built. He was also a divine craftsman,
responsible for making the silver bowls in which the feet of the dead were
washed. At some point this aspect of Sokar seems to have been transferred to
Ptah. Ptah and Sokar could be paired as creator deity and god of the dead as Ra
and Osiris often were.
As early as the Old Kingdom, Sokar was said to be the name of Osiris after
he was murdered by his brother Seth. In the Book of What Is in the Underworld,
Sokar presides over a snake-infested desert region that must be crossed by the
sun god and the royal dead. Sokar, Lord of the Mysterious Region, dwells in a
cavern guarded by the two-headed Aker-sphinx. There he repeatedly overcomes
a multiheaded chaos serpent. In later Underworld Books, it is the body of Sokar-
Osiris that lies in this mysterious cavern waiting for the reviving light of the
sun. The spirits of the dead were thought to join in the Festival of Sokar, which
seems to have celebrated the power to journey between the realms of the living
and the dead. The image of the god was dragged through the necropolis in his
henu barque, a special boat decorated with images of fish and antelopes. Sokar
was accompanied by five daughters of Ra in the forms of geese.
Statuettes of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris placed in tombs sometimes contain copies
of the Book of the Dead. Others conceal corn mummies, symbolic bodies of
Sokar-Osiris, to help the tomb owner attain resurrection. Figures of Sokar were
prepared as part of the month-long Khoiak Festival, the annual reenactment of
the mysteries of Osiris. The instructions for making these figures were said to
be based on a divine prototype. The goddess Shentayet of Busiris made a new
body for Sokar out of clay, dates, sweet-smelling spices, and precious stones and
metals. The mixture was shaped into an egg and then divided among fourteen
vessels. This links Sokar to lunar myths of destruction and renewal.
See also Cattle; Moon; Osiris; Ptah
References and further reading:
G. A. Gaballa and K. A. Kitchen. “The Festival of Sokar.” Orientalia 38 (1969):
1–76.
C. Graindorge. “Sokar.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt III, edited
by D. B. Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 305–307.
Primary sources:
PT 532; CT 590; BD 185L; Ad 4th–5th hours; Khoiak texts
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 203
SONS OF HORUS
The four gods Imsety, Hapy (not the same as the inundation god), Duamutef,
and Qebehsenuef were known collectively as the Sons of Horus. They were the
traditional guardians of the four canopic jars used to hold mummified organs.
Imsety generally protected the liver, Hapy the lungs, Duamutef the stomach,
and Qebehsenuef the intestines. The four sons were also associated with the
four directions (south, north, east, and west) and with four vital components for
survival after death: the heart, the ba, the ka, and the mummy. Imsety is usually
shown in full human form, but Hapy sometimes has the head of a baboon,
Duamutef that of a jackal, and Qebehsenuef that of a hawk.
In the Pyramid Texts, the Children of Horus are invoked to protect “Osiris
the king,” support his body, and beat up his “great enemy.” These roles are repeated
in a Middle Kingdom ritual drama in which the Sons of Horus fight the
Followers of Seth and then lift the body of Osiris into the heavens. Imsety,
Hapy, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef were sometimes identified with the four pillars
that held up the sky.
Obscure passages in the Coffin Texts seem to name Isis and Horus the
Elder as the parents of these four deities. Kinship terms were often used very
loosely in Ancient Egypt, so son can just mean descendant. The Sons of Horus
were sometimes treated as identical with the group of royal demigods known as
the Souls of Pe and Nekhen. After the reign of Horus, the Souls ruled the kingdoms
of Upper or Lower Egypt. According to one spell, the Souls of Nekhen
(Hierakonpolis) could be quarrelsome and were not always willing to obey
Horus.
From the New Kingdom onward, the Sons of Horus formed part of a group
of seven star gods who helped Anubis to protect the body of Osiris. In the Book
of the Dead, the sons are present when the dead are judged before Osiris. They
were often shown standing on a blue lotus, like a fourfold version of the infant
sun god who emerged from the primeval lotus (Figure 7).
The four sons came to be regarded as powerful protectors for all the dead.
Pallbearers at funerals played the roles of the Sons of Horus carrying the corpse
of Osiris. The sons were often named or shown on coffins and canopic chests,
paired with the four protective goddesses: Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Serqet.
The heads of the four sons formed the stoppers for sets of canopic jars. If the internal
organs were returned to a mummy, figures of the Sons of Horus were
sewn to the mummy wrappings or placed inside the body cavity. Their function
was to prevent any parts of the body being lost. The terrible fate of the body of
Osiris was never to be repeated.
See also Anubis; Horus; Osiris; Seth
204 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
References and further reading:
S. D’Auria et al. Mummies and Magic. Boston: 1988, 91–92, 117, 172.
J. H. Taylor. Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. London: 2001, 65–75.
Primary sources:
PT 541, 688; RDM; CT 157–158, 520–523; BD 112–113, 151; Triumph of Horus
SOPDET (SOTHIS)
Sopdet was the goddess of the Dog Star that heralded the inundation.
See also Isis; Satet and Anuket; Sopdu; Stars and Planets
SOPDU (SOPEDU, SOPED)
The warrior god Sopdu presided over the harsh environment of the eastern
desert. Sopdu, Lord of the East, was one of the guardians of the four directions.
As the “sharp-toothed one” he protected the dead from attackers from the east
or southeast. He could be shown as a falcon perched on a standard or as a
bearded man wearing a plumed headdress and carrying a battle-ax.
Some representations of Sopdu, Lord of the Foreign Lands, resemble the nomadic
Bedouin tribesmen of the eastern desert and Sinai peninsula. From early
times, Sopdu was revered as a protector of the turquoise mines of Sinai, where
he was paired with Hathor, Lady of Turquoise.
Sopdu was sometimes called “the eastern Horus.” In the Pyramid Texts,
Horus-Sopdu is said to be the son of Sopdet and Sah, the astral forms of Isis and
Osiris. Sopdu “of the shining plumes” was a form of the cosmic falcon who
could be addressed as the oldest of beings. This Sopdu falcon dwelled in a sacred
grove, which probably grew on the Primeval Mound.
Like other warrior deities, Sopdu had the epithet “great of strength.” He habitually
raised his hand in a threatening gesture to drive off supernatural foes
such as the fearsome Crocodile of the South. The messengers of Sopdu were
dreaded by the living. The evil dead could expect to be butchered in the
Slaughter Yard of Sopdu.
See also Horus; Primeval Mound; Stars and Planets
References and further reading:
R. Giveon. “Soped in Sinai.” In Studien zu Sprache und Religion Ägyptens zu
Ehren von Wolfhart Westendorf, edited by F. Junge. Göttingen, Germany: 1984,
777–784.
I. W. Schumacher. Der Gott Spodu, der Herr der Fremdländer. Freiburg,
Switzerland: 1988.
Primary sources:
PT 306; CT 270, 783; BD 130; HMP
Deities, Themes, and Concepts 205
SOTHIS
See Sopdet
SOULS OF PE AND NEKHEN
The Souls of Pe and Nekhen were two groups of demigods regarded as the divine
ancestors of Egyptian kings. The Souls of Pe (Buto) have the heads of falcons,
and the Souls of Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) have the heads of jackals.
See also Sons of Horus
SPHINX
The sphinx was a mythical beast with the body of a lion or lioness and the head
of a different creature. The most common combination was the body of a lion
and a human head with the face of a reigning king or queen. These sphinxes
embodied the power and duty of the ruler to defend Egypt. Other sphinxes had
the heads of rams, hawks, or even the Seth monster. These served as terrifying
animated guardians for temples or tombs.
Standing sphinxes were usually shown trampling the enemies of Egypt and
the divine order. Female sphinxes sometimes had wings, and it may be this
form that influenced the development of the female sphinx of Greek mythology.
A double sphinx known as the Aker was the guardian of the two horizons,
the entrance and exit to the Duat, the Egyptian underworld. During the first
millennium BCE, a sphinx god called Tutu became popular. He was usually
shown as a standing sphinx with wings and a tail in the form of a snake. Tutu
was one of the monstrous offspring of the goddess Neith. He was invoked to
keep enemies at a safe distance.
The best known of all Egyptian sphinxes is the Great Sphinx of Giza. This
was carved out of an extremely faulty piece of an outcrop of rock during the
twenty-sixth century BCE to act as a gigantic guardian for the royal cemeteries
of Memphis. Both in ancient and modern times the Great Sphinx has generated
a mythology of its own. From the New Kingdom onward, it was identified with
a Caananite desert god called Hauron or Hwl and worshipped as a solar deity.
The two great pyramids built for Khufu and Khephren came to be thought of as
the mountains of the horizon with the sphinx as the sun rising between them.
A granite stela found between the front paws of the Great Sphinx describes
how a prince named Thutmose once visited Giza to hunt desert animals. In his
time (early fourteenth century BCE) the statue seems to have buried in the sand
up to its head. Looking for shade in the heat of the day, Thutmose lay down in
front of the statue and went to sleep. He dreamed that the Great Sphinx spoke
to him “as a father speaks to his son,” naming itself as Horemakhet (Horus of
the Horizon) Khepri-Ra-Atum. The god complained that he was “ailing in all
206 Handbook of Egyptian Mythology
his limbs” because the sand had overwhelmed him. He promised that if the
prince would free him from the encroaching sand, Thutmose would enjoy a
long life and one day be king. When he awoke, Thutmose sent for numerous
workers.
The remainder of the inscription is badly damaged, but we know that the
helpful prince did become King Thutmose IV. Mud-brick walls that may have
been intended to keep sand away from the Great Sphinx bear his cartouches.
Thutmose’s inscription uses the traditional motif of the creator sun god (the
sphinx) under attack by the forces of chaos (the desert sands) and needing to be
helped to a rebirth.
To the Arab inhabitants of medieval Egypt, the Great Sphinx became
known as the Father of Terror. The statue was believed to guard hidden treasure,
which it sometimes revealed to the deserving. According to one legend,
the Great Sphinx kept the sand from overwhelming Giza until a zealous holy
man destroyed its power by mutilating the statue’s face. In modern times, the
Great Sphinx has been seen as the guardian of the hidden wisdom of the lost
kingdom of Atlantis or as the symbol of an ancient galactic master race who
built a second sphinx on Mars.
See also Feline Deities; Horus; Montu; Ra; Seth
References and further reading:
P. Jordan., Riddles of the Sphinx. Stroud, England: 1998.
G. Posener (ed.). “Sphinx.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Civilization. Translated by
A. MacFarlane. Paris: 1962, 267–268.
Primary sources:
Sphinx stela of Amenhotep II; Sphinx stela of Thutmose IV
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