Rachel Herz ANTHIOI Final Research Paper Fall 2013 Ancient Egyptian Religion and Deities When ancient Egypt is thought of many may come to a visual of pyramids and large cat sculptures. Egypt is famous for its pyramids, temples, and of course the Nile River. Along with these physical landmarks, ancient Egyptian religion is also a major factor of Egypt’s past culture. The ancient Egyptians had a unique belief system compared to others in their time. Their beliefs included a number of deities.
Each of these have their own story and most are connected to one another, but, differently han many other belief systems, these deities were believed to live among the humans. The ancient Egyptians had a very complex religion and belief system. The ancient Egyptian’s belief system can be broken down into three parts. The first is totemism, which is the belief that each human has a connection with another physical being (like an animal or a plant). This plant or animal could be thought to have supernatural powers, or it may Just have powerful meaning. The next is polytheism, which is the belief or worship of more than one god.
The ancient Egyptians definitely fell under the polytheistic views, with what is believed to be round 2000 gods and goddesses. Each village in Egypt had their own gods, with only a few common in each village. It is difficult to keep record of exactly how many existed. The last part of the belief system is ancestor worship. Ancestor worship is grounded on the belief of the afterlife. Ancestors are worshipped because it was believed that these ancestors could bless or curse later generations. As stated before, the ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife.
The Egyptians took good care of their dead, believing that the things left with them would be taken with them to their next life. All important people in the society including pharaohs and other important officials were mummified and placed in beautifully built tombs to await their arrival into the next life. For the kings, many of the tombs were decorated on the inside to look like their palace. Their furniture, food, clothes, and games were put in their tomb with them so they would not be in need of anything in their next life. “The Egyptians yielded to the pharaohs as gods” (C. 999: webl). Pharaohs were treated with the upmost respect when being prepared for the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians gods were unique compared to other gods of the time. Many of the gods of other cultures were actually the forces of nature. “They were feared rather than revered by our ancestors” (Tour Egypt 1996: webl). These gods were unpredictable and horrifying to the people of the past. But the Egyptian gods had a different essence. These gods were beautiful and luxurious beings that were seen as guides to a personal paradise, this personal paradise being the afterlife.
These gods were views as human beings; they had human emotions, fought with each other, and fell in love. Instead of being in some unreachable place, the gods were believed to walk Egyptians that they would be guided by those that were similar to them. Having this connection with their deities, helped the Egyptians to relate to their world around them. One of the most important gods in all of ancient Egypt was Ra, the sun god. He was the ultimate source of light and life. Ra is usually symbolized with a falcon head with a sun-like disc on his head.
This disc is usually surrounded by “the body of the cobra goddess, symbolizing the god’s power of delivering instant death” (Hart 1986: 179). The rising of the sun was one of the most important events in ncient Egyptian daily life. To the people, it looked as though the sun rose out of the water every morning. The Egyptians understood that the sun was similar to fire and fire went out when touched with water. So to solve this, Ra is usually shown on a boat that protects him from the water until he has risen high enough out of the water.
The boat called Matet was the boat he rode in the morning during the rising and in the evening he rode Semket as he was setting. Ra was worshipped very highly, “his power and brilliance were great, his actions affected other gods and mortals alike” (Armour 986: 41). Ra combined with the “creator god”, named Amun, to make space, earth, and all its laws. This new combination god was worshipped as the King of Gods. Amun is a very mysterious god. His physical appearance is usually Just one of a typical looking pharaoh. His skin is shown as a blue shade, similar to expensive stone, suggesting that he is worthy of being king.
His name means “Hidden One” and his origins and story are a bit obscure from before he merged with the sun god Ra. After he merged, he is said to have come quickly to aid those in need, such as kings on the battlefield or the poor. His presence was felt everywhere. Amun was also linked with Min, the God of Fertility. Amun-Min was the being of male sexual power, and was believed to generate all life. Next is Anubis, the God of Embalming. Anubis or “the dog who swallows millions” (Pinch 2002: 104) watched over as bodies were mummified and guarded the burial sites.
He is seen as the most important funerary god. He is usually shown as a human with a black Jackal head, or Just a full seated black Jackal. Anubis and his messengers were in charge of punishing those who disturbed tombs or offended the gods. Anubis is known as “the son of Osiris”, Osiris s the God of the Dead. But Anubis is also affiliated with other deities as parents. It is also a belief that Anubis is the son of Nephthys, Lady of the Mansion, and Set, the God of Evil. Bast, the Beautiful Cat Goddess, is obviously by her name shown as a woman with a cat head.
She is both the daughter and lover of Amun-Ra. As the daughter of the sun god, she is associated with the Eye of Ra, which is the female counterpart that is a violent force against the enemies of Ra. Bast is shown as a female with two sides: one is a nurturing mother fgure and the other a horrifying avenger to those who wrong her. In many Egyptian myths, Bast causes plagues and natural disasters on the terrified citizens. Some believe that Bast and myths involving her represent “the taming of female sexuality’ (Pinch 2002: 116). Hathor is known as the “Golden Goddess” or “Lady of the Stars”.
She was believed to help “women give birth, the dead to be reborn, and the cosmos to be renewed” (Pinch 2002: 137). She can be looked as one of the oldest fgures of Mother Earth. Hathor is shown as a gorgeous woman with cow horns and a red disc between the horns. Since she is associated with the cosmos and the sky, she’s also known as the Goddess of all urquoise. Hathor had many names and abilities, but as a whole, she was usually looked on as being connected to happiness and Joy. She represented truth and what an honest woman should be.
Isis was known as the “Throne Goddess” meaning she was the mother of each Egyptian king. Her maternal instincts “eventually included all humanity, and Isis became more widely worshipped than any other Egyptian deity’ (Pinch 2002: 149). In many myths, Isis is said to be the enemy of Seth, the God of Evil. “She takes many forms to lure, hunt down, and destroy Seth and his followers” (Pinch 2002: 151). With evidence in certain hymns, Isis was the individual that declared that a man should love a woman and children should love their parents.
It is believed that Isis made a similar promise as Jesus Christ in Christianity, that she would suffer the sorrows to console suffering humanity, and promised a happy afterlife. Osiris is known as the God of the Dead or the “Great God”. Osiris ruled the underworld and was eventually killed by his brother Seth, God of Evil. Many gods agreed that Osiris should be resurrected as king and serve as a Judge of the dead to determine their afterlife. He was usually shown as a mummified body wearing what is called an atef crown and holding a crook and flail, which are tools that are also now known as symbols of ancient Egypt.
Osiris was thought to be a good judge and a savior of the dead. Seth, the God of Evil, was the enemy of his brother Osiris. These two often shown as opposites. “Osiris could stand for order and everything that was Egyptian. Seth could stand for disorder and everything that was foreign” (Pinch 2002: 192). Many of Seth’s actions are bad in themselves, but sometimes can lead to better outcomes. One of these better outcomes is Osiris ecoming the ruler of the underworld. In myths, Seth was said to have brute strength that helped fight monsters.
Seth is associated with dangerous happenings in the desert like flash floods and sandstorms. Thoth was the God of Wisdom. He is thought to have invented writing and the different languages in humanity. He is often shown as a baboon or as an ibis. It is said that his baboon form was so he could “shine in the night sky’ and the ibis form to “act as a messenger between earth and heaven” (Pinch 2002: 209). Thoth is also called the god “without a mother” (Pinch 2002: 209). This is because there are many different theories of how Thoth came to be. One idea is that he came from the mouth of Ra.
Another is that he came from the forehead of Seth. Another is that he was self-created. Thoth was very important to the afterlife, it’s thought that dead kings rode on his wings up to the heavens. The ancient Egyptians are known for more than Just their pyramids. Their religious beliefs are based on totemism, polytheism, and ancestor worship. A main part of the belief system involves many gods and goddesses that were important to the daily life of the ancient Egyptians. Each of these deities are somehow connected to one another and they were believed to be similar to humans.
They walked on earth, not seen but felt by the citizens of Egypt. These gods were seen as beautiful and having similar emotions and problems as humans. The ancient Egyptian religion was unique compared to other religions of the time. Hart, George 1986. A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc. Armour, Robert A. 1986. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. New York, NY: The American University in Cairo Press. Pinch, Geraldine 2002. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Kidd, David N. 2004-2011.
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