Ra ( also Re) is the quintessential form of the Egyptian solar deity. The word Ra literally means "Sun," in turn derived from a root meaning "create." Ra is associated with the sun at the peak of it's power and glory, and is ritually attributed to the East and to Dawn. The worship of Ra was first established early in the Old Kingdom, but rather than being replaced by later solar god-forms, the mythology of Ra absorbed them. In many ways, Ra came to represent a distillation of all solar characteristics and all the solar gods. Thus, the body of Ra mythology is extensive and, not always so subtly, came to influence many later civilizations and religions.

In The Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, better known as the Book of Ani or the Book of the Dead, a collection of 190 different funerary texts from throughout Egypt's long religious development, the 15th chapter contains an exemplary spell of Ra dedicated to protect the soul on its journey in the Underworld:

"Hail to you. O Re at your rising, O Atum-Horakhty!
Your beauty is worshipped in my eyes
when the sunshine comes into being over my breast.
.....All your foes are overthrown,
the Unwearying stars acclaim you,
the Imperishable stars worship you when you set in the horizon,
.....being happy at all times,
and living and enduring as my lord.1

Borrowing from the somewhat earlier cosmogony associated with Atum, Ra was the self-generated creator who arose from the primordial waters of Nun. He created Shu, the air, and Tefnut, moisture, which in turn generated the Sky, Nut, and the Earth, Geb. The offspring of the latter were the classical god-forms of Ancient Egypt: Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nepthys. The triumph of Ra over the serpent of Chaos, Apep (also Apophis), as told in a papyrus of the British museum entitled The Book of Knowing of How Re Came into Being and the Overthrowing of Apepi, symbolically reflects the rebirth of the sun each morning. But Ra grew old, he was bitten by a snake and feared to die, and out of fear he disclosed his Secret Name, the essence of his power, to Isis in barter for healing. Ra created mankind from the blood drops of his self-castration. In another perhaps simply more euphemistic account, Ra was said to have created mankind from his tears, reflecting a pun based on the similar phonology of the Egyptian words for "man" and " to weep." The Book of the Celestial Cow tells how Ra became angry when he thought that man had conspired against him and ordered their annihilation by Sekhmet, a lioness form of Hathor representing the destructive aspects of the solar force, but recanted in the face of her own wanton cruelty. Using beer dyed red as blood, Ra got Sekhmet drunk. Although he saved his creation, Ra was so disgusted by it all that he retreated to sail forever over the arched back of Nut, paving the way for Osiris to assume the mantle of primary god among humankind.

Ra was said to be the first King of Egypt. Each Pharaoh thereafter (actually starting with Pharaoh Us-r-qaf in the Fifth Dynasty) was referred to as "Sa-Ra," the Son of Ra, and had a "Ra name" by which he partook of and manifested the Sun God's power. Each heir to the throne of Egypt was believed to have been fathered by Ra acting as, or through, the Pharaoh visiting the Queen mother. Some scholars note that the close association of the Egyptian church and state may have contributed to a gradual but almost total popular usurpation of the Solar Cult by that of Osiris, the ruler of Duat, the Underworld, especially after the failed reign of Akhenaton in the 18th Dynasty. As well, the Egyptian solar cult emphasized a relatively abstract account of the creation and structure of the cosmos which, perhaps, in part served mainly to establish the order and justification necessary to maintain the Pharoah's and priest's power. On the other hand, the cult of Osiris more directly addressed the common man's everyday concerns with the themes of death and the afterlife. Nevertheless, the Thelemic Resh ritual serves, among other things, as a gentle reminder that the Osirian themes of Life, Death, and Rebirth, only whisper of the greater story of the eternal Solar Marriage of Light and Dark.

I'm not much of an ancient languages student, so just as an aside, I have wondered about the etymological derivation of the Hebrew adjective for "evil." It is spelt Resh-Ayin, and conceivably pronounced as "RO" or "RA." I can't help but wonder if there isn't some long held animosity reflected there....

Symbolic Correspondences

  • Ra is associated with the sephiroth Tiphareth, and in his aspect of Amoun, with Chesed and, to a lesser extent, Binah. Thus, also with the colors orange and amber, the numbers 200 and 465, and with the astrological Sun.

  • Ra is associated with the 30th path, the Path of Resh, on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, which connects the spheres of Yesod (Foundation) and Hod (Splendour), and thereby the powers of the Archangels Gabriel and Raphael, or in a more material aspect, the powers of the Moon and Mercury. As a glyph, the Hebrew letter Resh signifies "head." Another way to think about it is that this path links the subconscious mind to the conscious, although not necessarily to consciousness. The work and the wisdom of this path may perhaps best be paraphrased by the age-old dictum of the Academy at Athens, "Know Thyself." Eshelman's (1994) translation of the qabalistic text entitled The 32 Paths of Wisdom refers to the 30th Path as, "The Universal Consciousness because through it astrologers (literally "Masters of the Heavens") derive their judgments of the stars and (zodiacal) constellations, and perfect their knowledge of the celestial cycles." 1

  • In his aspect of Amoun-Ra there is a connection with the 21st path linking Chesed and Netzach on the Tree of Life. This Path is associated with the Tarot Trump "The Wheel of Fortune," the planet Jupiter, the Hebrew letter Kaph (K), and with amethyst and lapis, oak and poplar, the fig, the eagle, and the colors blue and violet. Eshelman's (1994) translation of The 32 Paths of Wisdom refers to the 21st Path as, "...the Consciousness of the Desired, Which fulfills, because it receives the divine Influence which flows into it as a result of the blessing it confers upon all that exists." 1

  • In Pranayama, I associate Ra with the act of inhalation.

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