A comprehensible knowledge of Egyptian religion is indispensable for anyone who wishes to grasp the essence of the Egyptian civilization. Religion had deeply dominated all aspects of the Egyptian culture, its art, science, government, and law. To sum up it was the womb of that ancient culture. Egyptian religion can be characterized by its infinite complexity and diversity. This diversity is justified by the constant growth of religious beliefs over many centuries during which new ideas were introduced without ever discarding any old ones (except during the reign of Akhenaten). Therefore, to the ancient Egyptian this diversity of beliefs and gods was acceptable, consequently each divine power was approached by a variety of images related to nature, animal and human life.
Sources of information:
Much of our knowledge about religion comes from the religious literature in the form of hymns, charms, spells, and other religious texts inscribed on the walls of the tombs & temples, and on coffins, stelae, statues and papyri. The earliest religious writings were the Pyramid Texts written on the walls of the burial chambers of the fifth and sixth dynasties rulers within their pyramids. In the Middle Kingdom these were transferred from the structure of the tomb to the coffins thus given the name the Coffin Texts. In the New Kingdom these are replaced by what is known as the Book of the Dead (190 chapters), which were rolls of papyrus buried with the dead in the coffin. Apart from the Book of the Dead various other 'books' are known as the Am-duat, Book of the Gates, Book of the day and night etc... The texts in their various forms were concentrating on one subject that was mainly the welfare of the dead and his journey in the after life.
Gods and Myth
The Egyptian pantheon was so diversified, it included many gods which varied in character and form, some being defined by myth, and others by geographical location and organization into groups.
Ancient Egypt was composed of many local areas referred to as nomes, each district possessed its own traditions and customs with its own divinity that was worshipped by its inhabitants. These deities shared the fate of their localities meaning that depending on the political and economic importance of the locality, some of the deities were promoted to state gods whose cults spread all over the country for example Ptah of Memphis, Amon of Thebes and Re of Heliopolis.
There were other gods who did not have local basis however they participated and fulfilled their roles in general myths of creation like Nun which was a personification of chaos before creation.
Most Egyptians did not have an access to the state gods in the temples' shrines, which represented the most sacred place. The people could only approach the gods in the national festivals. However there were additional deities who answered the everyday life wishes and were connected with the family. These are referred to as household deities. The most popular were Bes and Tawert which were associated to child birth.
Gods represented themselves in various forms and manifested human behavior. They thought, they spoke, they dined, and they had emotions. Sometimes they went into battle and traveled by boat, some even drank to excess, as illustrated by the behavior of the goddess Hathor in the myth of The Destruction of Mankind. The forms of the deities were numerous. They could be human such as the gods Amon and Ptah, or animal such as the gods Anubis as a jackal and Sobek as a crocodile. The Egyptians sometimes combined human and animal forms in one image such as the gods Horus shown as a falcon-headed man and Sekhmet as a lioness headed woman. Often the same deity possessed more than one form of representation .
Gods were assimilated together to form sets composed of three deities, two adults and one youthful deity. These were referred to as triads like The Theban triad composed of Amon- Re and Mut as his consort with Khonsu as their child, another common way of combining gods together is referred to as syncretism, it is when a deity takes the name and character of a more important one, therefore Amon Re means Amon in the form of Re.
Egyptians' conception of the origin of the world
In the Egyptian view of the universe, both the divine and human worlds had come into being at the time of the creation, before which there were only an uncreated matter. The act of creation took place when this matter was separated into the myriad different forms that make up the created world. There was mainly three major creation myths in ancient Egypt. One of the major creation myths was associated with the religious centre of Heliopolis, the creator god who was self generated, began the creation by masturbation thus creation the first pair of male and female deities, who in turn produced another pair ...etc.
The temple as the cosmos
The temple was considered
the dwelling house of the god, it was a miniature picture of the
world at the moment of creation. The temple was conceived as the
center of creation. This symbolic role of the temple was
expressed in its location and design as well as the decoration of
its walls and ceiling. The structure was separated from the
outside world by a massive mud brick enclosure wall which
symbolize the watery state of the cosmos at creation. Within this
lay the main wall or the entrance wall, decorated with scenes of
the king slaughtering his enemies. The pylon is the largest
element in the temple symbolizing the hieroglyph of the horizon
with its two massive columns and the gap between them. The
orientation of the temple was always east-west, therefore the sun
rises in the pylon gateway penetrating with its rays to the
sanctuary (or shrine in which the statue of the god was kept)
which is placed in axis. The sanctuary represent the mound of
creation. Therefore in passing through the temple, toward the
sanctuary, one goes through the various phases of creation. The
hypostyle hall encompasses the decorative scheme of the whole.
The hall with its columns represented the marsh of creation while
the ceiling is decorated with reliefs of the sky. On the walls,
the activity of the world is represented, and in terms of the
temple the give and take relation between the king and the god is
the core of the world activity. There was a consistent general
pattern of temple building. This pattern ensured a gradual
approach was made to the divinity. The arrangement consisted of a
gradual move from light to shadow, with a rise in the ground
floor and lowering of the ceiling.
The temple's daily ritual was a dramatization of the god's daily life. The main services at dawn, midday, and night consisted of washing, anointment, adornment with clothing and feeding of the deity with offerings. The great festivals represented the god's social life when he was taken in procession to visit another deity in his house or received such a visit. These procedures stand in sharp contrast with the religious practices of the majority of the Egyptians.
It was ritual not myth that dominated the religious thought of ancient Egypt. In each of the main temples the king was regarded symbolically as the high priest. There were three services performed each day, at dawn, at midday and in the evening all centered around purification and offerings presented to the god.
In the daily rituals the
public had no role, in fact access to the inner parts of the
temple was strictly forbidden to the common people, they can only
participate in the great festivals. Each temple had a calendar of
its feasts. One of the most important festivals was The feast of
Opet held in Thebes during the second month of the season of the
inundation. At this feast Amon barked from Karnak to Luxor
accompanied by the boats of Mut and Khonsu, another important
festival was The New Year Feast. There was also the visit of the
goddess Hathor of Dandara to the god Horus of Edfu. The
procession of the goddess Hathor used to leave Dandara and arrive
at Edfu covering a distance of about 180 km, details of this
great festival are depicted on the walls of the court of the
temple at Edfu.
Funerary Beliefs and Customs
Egyptians were particularly religious people obsessed by death and burial however their preoccupation with the after life originated essentially from the Egyptian's devotion to life and the perfect harmony they found in the Egyptian environment. In general it was believed that the best existence of man after life is composed of what was thought as the best and the most desired style of life on earth. In death as in life, the Egyptians expected to belong to an hierarchical society in which the best was reserved for the king and the nobles. It is from their tombs that most of the information about the Egyptian customs comes. It is difficult to give an account of the beliefs of all the social classes, however, it is assumed that at every level the Egyptian conception of his existence after death was that it should consist of the best of what is available to him in his life on earth. In order to achieve the desirable end, the deceased should assure that his name continued to exist, his body remain intact, and be supplied with all the necessary food and drink. This led to the development of exquisite tombs containing incorruptible mummy and inscribed with texts with the owner's name and with scenes that would secure for him by magical means food, drink and other desirable objects.
Akhenaten's new religion
The New Kingdom has witnessed the first attempt of monotheism when Amenhotep IV established Aten as the sole universal god of Egypt and eliminated all the traditional deities in the Egyptian pantheon. This god was not in fact unknown to the Egyptians. It originally represented the light and heat of the sun. His name appeared frequently in texts, and used in expressions, the most common was [All that Aten encompasses] referring to the universe. Akhenaten's new doctrine did not last long after his death. The return to the orthodox worship of Amon- Re took place under the influence of the divine father Ay who guided the steps of the small king Tutankhaten. During Tut's reign Amon-Re regained its supremacy that lasted till the end of the Egyptian empire.
Egypt was historically divided into two "kingdoms". There was "Upper Egypt" and "Lower Egypt". "Upper Egypt" seemed to contain a more "educated" or "civilized" peoples than "Lower Egypt". The peoples of "Upper Egypt" were somewhat of a "different race" (a mixture of different ethnic groups) than those of "Lower Egypt". The gods listed here (mostly from "Upper Egypt"), and their various depictions were, in the main, totally different in some aspect or another than the gods of "Lower Egypt". For instance, Ptah, the great god of "Upper Egypt" is, in "Lower Egypt", an ugly dwarf, with an enlarged head, carrying a club over his head as if threatening his worshippers with vengeance, and he is the father of a brood of children as ugly and malicious as himself (the Cabeiri), whose main duty was to torture the wicked dead.-*-paraphrased from From Here To There (see Bibliography).
Queen, circa 1540 B.C.E., who was elevated to goddess stature as a protector/punisher of humans.
Semitic goddess of war. Originally Syrian.
A cow goddess.
An Egyptian underworld goddess who is part lion, part hippopotamus, and part crocodile, and who eats the souls of the unworthy dead.
A malevolent goddess, depicted with the head of a wasp and the body of a hippotamus.
One of the seven deities listed in the Egyptian Book of the Dead who provided food for the deceased in the underworld. They are pictured as having a solar disk between their horns. The other six are:
Goddess of the seasons and sunset, sometimes called Goddess of the Nile.
Goddess of the setting sun. Wife of Atum.
A female counterpart to Amon and one of the primordial gods.
Goddess of the underworld. Listed in the Book of the Dead.
Goddess who lived in a tree at the edge of the desert where she watched the gates of the afterworld, welcoming the newly dead with bread and water.
The abode of the dead.
Fire goddess of Tuat (the underworld).
Part crocodile, part lion, and part hippopotamus, she is a goddess of the underworld.
Another goddess of the underworld.
Also called Amun, Ra or Re (the Sun), or Amun-Ra or Amen-Ra (the Great Sun), or Khepri. The king of the gods during the Theban dynasties, and the god of fertility. He was part of the Theban Triad, along with Mut and Khonsu. Usually associated with the wind, or things hidden.
One of the four lesser gods of the dead who supervised the mummification process. His name means "carpenter", and he is pictured with a man's head. See also Hepi, Smotef, and Snouf.
Goddess of love and war. Also known as a mountain goddess.
A goddess of the moon.
A creator goddess, wife of Khnum.
Goddess depicted as a serpent with the head of a woman.
A spear-carrying Egyptian war goddess.
He was originally a falcon god, later believed to have merged into Horus.
Syrian war goddess adopted by Egypt. She is pictured holding a spear, shield, and battle-axe and wearing the Crown of the South.
The offspring of Nephthys affair with Osiris. He prepared the dead and led them into the underworld.
An early Egyptian water goddess; she was later merged with Nephthys.
The great snake of darkness, who sometimes rose up, mouth agape, to try to swallow Ra's solar barque in its travel across the heavens; Ra always managed to escape, but each of Apep's failed attempts resulted in fierce storms or solar eclipses.
It means "sacred bull". Depicted as a bull with a solar disk between its horns, Apis was another form of Ptah.
Moon goddess and goddess of war. She is depicted with the head of a lion. Probably devolved from the Syrian Astarte.
Goddess of time.
The Pharaoh Akhenaton decreed him to be the one and only god in his attempt to establish a monotheistic religion.
The goddess of Love and Beauty. She is usually shown with cow horns, and sometimes with a cow's head. Wife of Amun-Ra.
A primordial god that was represented in the form of a human and a serpent. The version of the Egyptian god Amon (see above) who creates Shu and his sister Tefnut via masturbation (or expectoration).
(Sumeria) A creator god in Mesopotamia, later called Ea.
Goddess of wealth and abundance.
The sacred bull that was an incarnation of Menthu, a personification of the heat of the sun. He changed color every hour of the day.
*Bast or Bastet
Bastet (originally a lion goddess symbolizing the fertilizing force of the sun's rays), became the cat goddess, the patroness of the domestic cat and the home. She is often seen in human form with the head of a cat and holding the sacred rattle known as the sistrim. Bastet is also associated with the eye of Ra, the sun god, and acts as an instrument of his vengeance. She ruled over pleasure, sex, dancing, music, and joy.
Mother goddess, later merged with Hathor.
Wife of Ptolemy Soter, who promised the gods that she would cut off her beautiful hair if her husband returned safely from war. He did, she did, and hung her hair in the temple of Arsinoe. It disappeared from the temple, and appeared in the heavens as the constellation Coma Berenices.
Bes means "dancing". The patron god of pregnant women. The Egyptian dwarf god who guards against evil spirits, snakes, and misfortune. He is a god of human pleasures, music, and dance. Bes was usually pictured full face (often nude, with prominent genitals). He was shown to be ugly and grotesque in appearance, with a large head, protruding tongue, bow legs and the ears, mane and tail of a lion or cat. He bore a plumed crown and wore the skin of a lion or panther. Despite his appearance, he was a beneficent deity and his appearance was meant to scare off evil spirits. He bore swords and knives to ward off the evil spirits, as well as musical instruments which he used to create a din which would frighten them off. Bes was the protector of children and of women in labor, and aided the hippopotamus goddess Taweret in childbirth.
Goddess of childbirth.
A king of Egypt, who to avert famine for his people, ordered all strangers that landed on his shores be sacrificed to the gods. He made the mistake of capturing Hercules, who escaped his chains and slew the king.
Serpent goddess of lower Egypt. Mother of the sun and moon. She spits poison on the enemies of the pharaoh, and burns them with her fiery gaze.
Title of the hereditary queens of the desert empire of Meroe. One of them led an army of 10,000 rebels against the Roman occupation of Egypt.
Also called Ham. He was the god of "increase", considered as the father of their race. He is usually pictured wearing a women's garment.
Another serpent goddess of lower Egypt. She is pictured with the crown of Hathor or with Ma‚t's feather.
Son of Amun-Ra and his wife Athor. Usually pictured with the new moon atop his head.
Goddess protector of children. She is pictured as being a hippopotamus with woman's breasts and lion's feet, usually carrying a crocodile on her back.
Another goddess of childbirth.
Goddess with the head of a cobra, wearing a headdress with a solar disk between two horns.
Guardian goddesses of the gate to the underworld. The dead must say their names before they are allowed to pass through. Aakhabit and Clother are mentioned in the Book of the Dead. The others are called by titles like "Lady of the Light", etc.
*Geb and Nut
They were the children of Shu and Tefnut. Geb was the god of earth. Nut was the sky goddess.
A desert goddess of lower Egypt. Occult lore links her to the moon.
A frog-headed goddess of resurrection.
Means the Nile. "He" was depicted with the beard of a man and the breasts of a child-bearing woman.
God of silence.
Another goddess of the underworld mentioned in the Book of the Dead.
The goddess of joy and love, she was a protector of women. Also worshipped as a sky goddess, Hathor is depicted wearing a sun disk held between the horns of a cow as a crown. Hathor was the patroness of all women, artists, music, dance, and happiness. She is often traditionally present in all ancient Egyptian tombs to ensure safe passage into the after world.
A scorpion goddess mentioned in the Book of the Dead.
Frog-headed goddess of childbirth. Her husband fashioned the bodies from clay and she gave them life.
Another of the four lesser gods of the dead. His name means digger, and he has an ape's head.
A serpent-headed goddess of resurrection who is associated with the resurrection of Osiris.
Goddess of fertility and regeneration. She assisted Osiris to rise from the dead. Another frog-headed goddess.
Goddess of the North.
Goddess of the mid-day desert.
Another serpent-headed goddess of the underworld. She takes care of the mummified Osiris.
Het is the Egyptian serpent goddess who rules fire.
The falcon-eyed son of Osiris and Isis, who was conceived miraculously by Isis and the dead Osiris. He swore to avenge his father's murder. He did.
Also Imothph, the god of science or medicine. Son of Ptah and Sekhet. Counselor-physician to Zoser (Tosorthros), who founded Egypt's 3rd Dynasty. His name means "peace".
Sometimes Isitis, which means Earth or corn-bearing Land. She is the "mother of all creation". A daughter of Geb and Nut, she was the faithful wife of her brother Osiris. She became universally worshipped, is associated with love, motherhood, marital devotion, healing, eternal life, and the casting of magical spells and charms. Isis is the goddess of day, while her twin sister, Nephthys, is the goddess of night. Her sacred symbol is an amulet called the tyet. She is the mother of Horus.
God of fertility.
The scarab beetle god who rolled the sun through the sky.
The Egyptian god, who fashioned men and women on a potter's wheel, and was worshipped in the form of a ram.
The son of Amon and Mut, and one of the main gods of Egypt when the Theban dynasties ruled.
The god of animal and spiritual life. He has the head and horns of a ram.
Ma'at is the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and the underworld. She passed judgement over the souls of the dead in the Judgement Hall of Osiris. The "Law of Ma'at" was the basis of civil laws in ancient Egypt.
Goddess of the sky.
A god of war.
A goddess of childbirth.
Goddess of fate.
A god of fertility, virility, rain, thunder, and travelers.
Sometimes the god, sometimes the goddess, of Truth and Justice. Is depicted with ostrich feathers on the head.
Mut is seen as the mother, the nurturing force behind all things while her husband Amon is the great energy or creative force. In ancient Egyptian, 'mut' means mother. The mother of Khonsu. Mut is another name of Isis.
The ruling goddesses of the north (Uadgit) and south (Nekhebet, the protector of childbirth).
God of lotus flowers.
Means the Heavens. She is goddess of the sky, crafts, and wisdom.
The twin sister of Isis, Nephthys is the goddess of night and the protectoress of the dead. She is also Set's sister and wife, although, through her subterfuge, she bore a child (the jackal-headed Anubis) by Osiris.
Goddess of the sky.
He was the first child of Geb and Nut. He was the judge of the dead in the underworld. Osiris was killed by his jealous brother Set.
The goddess of Virtue. She is pictured with a cat's head.
Also spelled as Pthah. He was the god of fire and the creator. His figure is bandaged like a mummy, and his head is shaven like a priest.
Goddess of beauty and love.
(see Amon above) The sun god, and leader of the gods, he was pictured as a child in the early morning, a man in his prime at noon, and an old man in the evening. He traveled through the underworld at night to be reborn at dawn.
God of gardens.
Goddess of children and nursing mothers.
Also known as Satis and Satet, is an Egyptian archer goddess who personified the waterfalls of the river Nile.
Also called Seb. Was depicted as having a crocodile face. During the Middle Kingdom he was merged with Re (Sobek-Re) and was worshipped as primordial deity and creator-god.
A god of death.
The ennead of Memphis was headed by a triad composed of the father Ptah, the mother Sekhet, and the son Imhotep, main gods of Egypt during the Memphite dynasties.
A sun-goddess, Sekhmet is also the lion goddess and her worship was centered in Memphis. Her name means 'powerful'; she was portrayed as either a lion or a woman with the head of a lion, often holding an ankh or sistrum. When Ra grew angry at the whinings and complaints of humankind, he ripped out one of his eyes and hurled it at the earth; this eye changed in flight to an avenging goddess, Sekhmet, who ravaged the earth, sucking blood from the peoples, and almost totally wiping out humankind before a remoseful Ra could stop her.
The beautiful scorpion goddess Selket, has her scorpion strike death to the wicked. She also saves the lives of the innocent stung by a scorpion.
-means "underworld". An ancient Egyptian god of the lower world, also worshiped in ancient Greece and Rome. He is shown as having a bull's head. Also an alternate name for Osiris.
Goddess of books and writing.
The son of Geb and Nut. This powerful god was regarded as god of the desert. He was Osiris' evil brother and was considered the incarnation of wickedness. He tricked Osiris at a feast in Osiris' honor, and killed him, and took his place on the throne. In some myths he is called Typhon, and is associated with the "abominable" animals: the pig, donkey, and the hippopotamus. He was depicted as a strange being with a stiff, forked tail, a long gaunt body, a tapering snout, huge erect ears and protruding eyes.
God of fate.
*Shu and Tefnut
They were Ra's children. Shu was the god of air and held up the sky. Tefnut, his sister and wife, was the goddess of dew and rain. They were the parents of Geb and Nut.
Another of the four lesser gods of the dead. His name means shaper, and he has a jackal's head.
Another of the four lesser gods of the dead. His name means bleeder, and he has a hawk's head.
He sometimes replaces Smotef as one of the four lesser gods of the dead. His name means cutter or purifier.
This was the animal form of the great mother goddess Mut. As a nurturing force Tauret was depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus with long teats, standing on her hind legs and carrying the scrolls of protection. As a fierce animal force protecting the children Tauret was pictured as a lion-headed hippo carrying a dagger.
Tefnut is the goddess of daybreak (the goddess of dew and rain) and is associated with the mountains from which the sun rises.
Anit, Atumu, Hathor, Horus, Isis, Montu, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Shu, Sibu, Sit, Tafnuit, and Tanu. Sometimes the group includes Khonsu, Maut, Mont, and Mut.
The god of learning, he was the lunar god usually depicted with the head of an ibis, though he was worshipped as a baboon in Hermopolis. He acted as secretary to the gods, and was the master over writing, languages, laws, annals, and calculations.
Goddess of the underworld (as mentioned in the Book of the Dead).
A goddess of the underworld who endows justice and truth. She is pictured as a cobra (sometimes winged and crowned) or as a snake with the face of a woman. She is the sister of Nekhebet, and together they are known as the Nebti.
Goddess of water.
There are two versions of the "Udjat eye":
1. It is the Eye of Ra (or of Heru). It refers to the eye of the falcon-headed god Horus after it had been torn out by Seth during one of their never-ending battles over the throne of Egypt. The eye was then healed by Thoth, hence it was considered a symbol of healing or revitalization.
2. According to some other texts, Atum (the creator) gave birth to his son by spitting him out. His daughter he vomited out. Shu (the son) represented the air and Tefnut (the daughter) was a goddess of moisture. After some time Shu and Tefnut became separated from their father and lost in the watery chaos of Nu. Atum, who had only one eye (the Udjat eye), which was removable, removed it and sent it in search of his children. In time they returned with the eye. At this reunion Atum wept tears of joy. Where these tears hit the ground, men grew (the beginning of the human race).
A death goddess who causes infants to die.
Goddess protector of the dead.
The lion goddess (sometimes the lion god) who is the protective power in the Eye of Horus.
Anubis god of funerals-jackal
Atenonly god solar disc earth human form#
Hathor joy, love coW
Horus divinity falcon#
Isis magic human form
Khnum creation ram
Khonsson of Amenfalcon
Maat balanceostrich feather
Nephthys sterility human form
Nut sky celestial vault#
Osiris vegetation human form
Ptah creation human form#
Seth evil a composite animal
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