You want an introduction to Egyptian mythology? You’ve come to the right place!
For the Ancients, Egypt will be essentially taoui – “the double country”; this duality of nature (between Upper Egypt, a valley wedged between two deserts, and Lower Egypt, an alluvial plain coinciding with the Nile delta) and this double attraction (towards Africa on the one hand, towards Asia and the future Europe on the other hand) will mark all the elements and the facts of the political, economic and human life of this predestined country. (Journey in Egypt)
A contrast of colors reinforces, from east to west, another duality, between Kemet “the black one” (the fertile valley with the dark silt) and Deshret “the red one” (the sterile region of the deserts with the sands shining under the sun). The Egyptian civilization takes its roots in the mists of time, more than six thousand years ago (chronology). Religion, based on polytheism, guided every aspect of Egyptian life.
Emergence of Egyptian protective deities in egyptian mythology
Ancient Egypt was divided into about forty territories – the nomes -, each one venerating more particularly a divinity, which appeared on the monuments under the aspect of an animal, a plant or an object: in Memphis, it was the bull Apis; in Mendes, a goat. The cartouche of one of the most ancient pharaohs contained a representation of a scorpion.
As Egyptian civilization expanded, some of these local cults came to assume greater importance: those of Horus and Osiris, or of Hathor; honored at Denderah, she was represented in the Predynastic period (before the third millennium B.C.) as a cow with a human head, and in the Old Kingdom (around the middle of the third millennium B.C.), she became the “cow of the sky”, the gentle protector of the pharaoh.
The creation of the world and Egypt
The theology of Memphis – the set of teachings of Menes (the name given by the Greeks to one of the oldest known pharaohs, Narmer, who founded his new capital around 3200 BC in Memphis) – describes the creation of the world and makes the unity of Egypt a process participating in the eternal order of the cosmos. It is the god Ptah who creates everything from ideas that he conceals in his heart and formulates in his language. The same is true of the gods who, first manifesting themselves in the form of concepts emanating from the spirit of Ptah, are materialized by objects of the Universe, stone, metal and wood, also generated by Ptah.
The theology of Memphis also borrows from the Old Kingdom myths concerning the gods Horus and Seth, who dispute the hegemony over Egypt. Intervening as a mediator, another god, Geh, first divides the country between the two, then, changing his mind, gives it all to Horus. The theology of Memphis identifies the pharaoh Menes with Horus and establishes a parallel between Ptah and Geb, who, in another mythological context, is the supreme spirit of the Earth, the divinity of the Earth, a masculine principle for the Egyptians, whereas Heaven, a feminine principle, appears to them in the guise of the goddess Nut, mother of the stars and of the Sun Ra.
Half-animal, half-man God in egyptian mythology
By the end of the Second Dynasty (c. 2778 BC), there are about twenty gods who are represented in animal form, human or with a human body and an animal head. Among the most famous is the jackal Anubis, who weighs the merits and faults of the deceased after death and presides over embalming ceremonies.
The cobra, although dangerous, became the protector of the tombs and is sometimes depicted standing on the front of the pharaoh’s double crown; its image is often reproduced in the tombs to deter grave robbers. The python, which disappeared from Egypt in the Pharaonic era, survived in the pantheon as Apopis, the main enemy of Ra, allied in his task of destruction to Set.
Unique egyptian god, supreme egyptian gods
During the Old Kingdom (2778-2420 BC), some of these gods will take more importance than others. They are Ra, Osiris, Set and Hathor.
During the New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC), three gods gradually dominated the others: Amun, Ra and Ptah. At the same time, the success of the cult of Isis, born from that of Osiris, continued to grow. During the New Kingdom, Akhenaten tried to impose a monotheism: that of the cult of Aten, the solar disc with multiple arms. But this reform clashed with too many habits and too many interests and it did not survive him.
In the seventh century B.C., the XXVth Nubian dynasty, which reigned over Egypt for a little less than a century, contributed to the spread of the cult of Amun throughout the Nile valley.
Main deities of the Egyptian mythology
|Amon||“the hidden one”, king of the gods and supreme creator under the name of Amun-Ra.||Man with ram’s head or with ram’s horns, or with a solar disc.|
|Anubis||God of the Dead and judge of souls.||Man with head of jackal.|
|Aten||Solar god, unique god for Akhenaten.||Solar disc.|
|Bastet||Goddess of Love and Fertility.||Woman with cat’s head.|
|Hathor||Sky goddess of Love, Birth and Fertility.||Cow, or woman with head of cow or wearing horns of cow.|
|Horus||God of Heaven, Love and Goodness.||Falcon or man with the head of a falcon.|
|Imhotep||Patron of the Scribes and the Craftsmen.||Seated man with shaved head and holding a papyrus scroll.|
|Isis||Goddess of fertility and motherhood.||Woman wearing a throne on her head.|
|Maat||Goddess of the Law, Truth and Justice.||Woman wearing an ostrich feather.|
|Mout||Mother-goddess.||Woman, sometimes with a vulture head.|
|Nut||Goddess of the Sky.||Naked woman lying on the earth curve.|
|Osiris||God of the Dead.||Mummy, arms crossed on the chest, holding a scepter in one hand, a whip in the other.|
|Ptah||Creator Word.||Mummy holding an ankh (symbol of life) and a scepter.|
|Ra||God of the Sun and of Creation.||Man with hawk’s head, wearing the solar disk.|
|Sekhmet||Goddess of quarrels and war.||Lioness or woman with lioness head.|
|Seth||God of Darkness and Evil.||Chimerical creature or man with the head of a monster.|
|Thot||God of Knowledge and Wisdom.||Man (or baboon) with the head of an ibis, baboon or dog.|