Ancient Egypt's Pantheon: The Egyptians' Mighty Gods and Goddesses
The Ancient Egyptians Beliefs
Despite of the disturbing and unfair events that are occurring in Egypt presently, I would like to reflect on some of the interesting gods and goddesses of Egypt's past.
Ever since I was a young girl, I have had an obsession with Ancient Egyptian culture and history. When I was thirteen, I purchased and read "The Complete Idiot's Guide" to Ancient Egyptian culture. This book provided me with a very basic anthropologic view of the Ancient Egyptians and their fascinating spiritual rites. The Egyptians were a mighty and intelligent ancient people that held a high reverence for their various gods and goddesses...though as with most polytheistic cultures, certain gods and goddesses were held above others.
Anytime I read about ancient Egyptians and their enchanting ways, I feel like I am pulled back in time...to a time when the pyramids were built for the rich and powerful pharoahs...to a time when ancient gods and goddesses walked on the earth amongst their people. Read on, and maybe you will get the feeling that you have been to Egypt before...maybe you will know these stories as familiar...
Anubis, The Mummy Maker
Anubis was a major god of the Egyptians, as he served as a God of the Dead and oversaw the embalming and mummification processes. Anubis is shown with having the head of a black jackal, which is an animal that was frequently seen amongst tombs and graveyards in Ancient Egypt...hence Anubis' dog-like appearance. A reason Anubis is depicted as the color black is because black was a color related to death and darkness. Anubis was also believed to have been a friend or a spiritual guide to the departed Egyptian souls, who would lead them to the Underworld under his protection.
The embalming of a body was considered a sacred process to the Ancient Egyptians, more specifically for the first stage of embalming...the cutting open of the body. Because this step was so sacred to the Egyptians, a priest dressed with the head of Anubis as a mask would perform this step...in which he would become Anubis himself (or so the Egyptians believed). To perform the embalmification of a body without Anubis present would be considered an atrocity and would surely mean the soul of the body would not be guided to the Underworld but be left to roam about on his own.
The god Anubis is one of the ancient Egyptian gods mentioned in the more recently-made film, The Mummy. It is quite interesting to see how some of the ancient gods were incorporated into this film...specifically Anubis. I particularly like the phrase that the mummy uses in this movie, "Death is only the beginning." This was a belief that all ancient Egyptians held true. This is why they performed the embalmification and placed their dead with items to aid them in the afterlife. Anubis statues can be seen in some of the pyramid tombs, perhaps to call upon his aid for the dead?
Not to tear down the Egyptians' reverence towards Anubis, but I am not totally sure that I would not pee my linen wrappings if Anubis was the first face that I saw after passing! But hey, maybe he could be more like a gentle family dog?
Anubis the Dweller in the Mummy Chamber, Governor of the Divine House ... saith:- Homage to thee, thou happy one, lord! Thou seest the Utchat. Ptah-Seker hath bound thee up. Anubis hath exalted thee. Shu hath raised thee up, O Beautiful Face, thou governor of eternity. Thou hast thine eye, O scribe Nebseni, lord of fealty, and it is beautiful. Thy right eye is like the Sektet Boat, thy left eye is like the Atet Boat. Thine eyebrows are fair to see in the presence of the Company of the Gods. Thy brow is under the protection of Anubis, and thy head and face, O beautiful one, are before the holy Hawk. Thy fingers have been stablished by thy scribe's craft in the presence of the Lord of Khemenu, Thoth, who hath bestowed upon thee the knowledge of the speech of the holy books. Thy beard is beautiful in the sight of Ptah-Seker, and thou, O scribe Nebseni, thou lord of fealty, art beautiful before the Great Company of the Gods. The Great God looketh upon thee, and he leadeth thee along the path of happiness. Sepulchral meals are bestowed upon thee, and he overthroweth for thee thine enemies, setting them under thy feet in the presence of the Great Company of the Gods who dwell in the House of the Great Aged One which is in Anu. - The Speech of Anubis from the Papyrus of Nu and the Papyrus of Nebseni
Isis, The Loving Magical Goddess and Osiris, The Powerful Yet Unlucky
The ancient sky Goddess Nut gave birth to the powerful Goddess, Isis. Isis was known as a Goddess who could perform magic in order to give the gift of life...she was also known to be a bringer of death on darker occasions. Isis is usually depicted with a bird's head and a woman's body. The ancient Egyptian stories say that Isis married her brother Osiris, who was the most powerful God over the other gods at one point. (If you read anything about Egyptian royal history, you will know that the pharoahs and royal families tended to marry their siblings in order to keep the royal throne within the same bloodlines...yes, I agree that it is gross but they felt it necessary in ancient times). Nonetheless, Isis felt a very deep bond with Osiris and they ruled in peace for quite some time. During the peaceful times, Isis was said to have walked the earth amongst the Egyptian people, aiding Egyptian women in the making of bread and other household tasks. She was also known to have taught the Egyptian women how to tame their wild husbands.
The peaceful days ended for Isis and Osiris, as Osiris' jealous brother, Seth, decided to usurp the throne for himself. Seth (an evil god) was envious of his brother's power over the gods and earth, and so he concocted a plan to trap and kill Osiris. It involved luring Osiris into a box, which was an impromptu coffin of sorts that Seth pushed off into the river. Osiris's body floated within his watery coffin and Egyptians say that his coffin washed up into a tree in ancient Phoenicia. Isis was torn apart with grief over the loss of Osiris and was unable to do anything but mourn...apparently cutting all of her hair off and ripping her gown from her beautiful body. After the mourning had ended, Isis went on a perilous quest to find Osiris' body and hopefully be able to breathe life into it once more. Isis ended up finding Osiris in Phoenicia by way of the Queen Astarte and she gave life to his body (there are different stories as to how she did this). After being together again, apparently Seth killed Osiris again and scattered his remains in different directions...so Isis came to Osiris' body's rescue for a second time. She pieced his body back together, with the help of magical serpents, and gave life yet again to her dismembered husband. They both ruled over the gods and earth happily for a long while and gave birth to a lovely son named Horus. Osiris knew that Horus would take care of his wife, so Osiris descended to the Underworld to take his place as a guidian to passing Egyptian souls.
Horus, The Pharoah's Protector
As previously mentioned in the epic tale of Isis and Osiris, Horus was their son. Horus was known to serve different purposes to the Egyptians, being a god of War, protection and a god of the sky. Horus was usually depicted with a falcon's head and a male human's lower body. On his head, he wore the pschent (red and white crown) that symbolized his rule over the country of Egypt. Egyptians believed that Horus was the Protector of Egypt and the pharoah was viewed as the embodiment of Horus...as his duties were to rule and protect Egypt.
The Egyptian stories held that Horus protected Egypt from his evil Uncle, Seth. They fought many battles but Horus was said to have come out on top. Horus' image and name changed through the different dynasties...and many scholars believe that there were entirely different gods named Horus not the same god evolving. Some claim that Horus was a creator god in the older periods, and others claim that Horus was a young god in later Egyptian periods. Whatever the difference between these gods, or similarities, Horus is always symbolized by the falcon. Many temples held the eye of Horus, pictured to the right.
In her purest form, Ma'at was the deity that represented justice and truth. She was the goddess who divvied out law and order to the gods, as well as over the humans. She has also been known as Mat and Mayet. Ma'at was the balance that kept nature and the heavens from falling into utter chaos...she was the embodiment of whole wisdom to the Egyptians. While most Egyptian Goddesses were known to have taken a smaller stool to their male counterparts, Ma'at seemed to be on an equal level as her male counterpart, Ra.
In Ma'at's gorgeous black hair, she wears a large ostrich feather. This feather was used by Ma'at to weigh the hearts of dead Egyptians in order to judge whether their souls would go to paradise or be doomed to never reach it. Ma'at would be the one involved in a version of Judgement Day, similar to what the Christians believe. Ma'at is also shown holding a was scepter in one hand and an ankh in the other hand. The was scepter represents power and the ankh was the Egyptians' symbol for eternal life. Ma'at's name and belief has been found recorded in texts dating back to the Old Kingdom (2680 to 2190 BCE). This indicates that the ancient Egyptians held high honor in the pursuit of ethics and morality amongst their people.
In the Egyptians' Book of the Dead, Ma'at's Feather of Justice is seen in use alongside the gods Anubis and Ammet. Anubis oversees the weighing process performed by the Feather and the Goddess Ammet is seen waiting patiently to the side. If a heart was not deemed worthy by the Feather, the heart was thrown to the lion-Goddess Ammet...who gobbled it up therefore keeping it to the Underworld forever. If one's heart was found to be pure, Osiris would guide the heart to Auru (Egyptian Heaven). Obviously Ma'at's Feather of Justice plays an important role in the judgement process.
The Karnak Temple is said to have been the first place where a monument was erected in honor of the Goddess Ma'at. This is said to have been accomplished by Amenhotpe III in the New Kingdom period. Following Amenhotpe's commissioning of Ma'at's temple, there were others built in Memphis and Deir el-Medina.
I cannot figure out what it is about this god's name that I just want to repeat it over and over inside of my head. It seems mysterious and mystical in some weird way. Evey, the character in The Mummy, even chants the line, "Amun-ra, Amun-de" as a verse from the Book of the Dead...which in turn brought the evil mummy "Imhotep" back from the grave...but we will ignore that negative connotation to Amun-ra's name for now. Let us examine all of the wonderful and inspiring traits of this Ancient Egyptian God.
Amun was combined with the sun god, Ra to become Amun-Ra, Patron of the Pharoahs and Lord of the Gods. This union of the Patron of the Pharoahs and the Sun God came into fruition due to an uprising of the Amun occult in the eighteenth dynasty. Amun-Ra was usually drawn in temples as a man with an ankh in one hand and a fancy headdress rising from the top of his head. Sometimes he was pictured with the head of a bird...depending on which dynasty in which the picture was etched. Amun-Ra was known to have been the God of the Wind, and also a creator god...as he created himself. Amun-Ra, held Ma'at's truth and power close to himself and Egyptians claimed that before the deads' hearts were weighed by Ma'at's feather of justice, the Egyptians had to pray to Amun for forgiveness of their sins (gosh, this sounds oddly familiar).
Later in the eighteenth dynasty, worship of Amun-Ra was drowned out for a short period in time by the Pharoah Akhenaten...who brought into deity the sun god Aten. The rise of Aten did not last long, however, and the worship of Amun-Ra eventually became prevalent again in Egypt. Amun-Ra evolved throughout the centuries and was also said, at one point, to have been a part of a "trinity" of gods, Amun, Ptah, and Re. This gives us an uncanny parallel comparison to the trinity mentioned in the Bible and also the trinity of goddesses that certain sects of modern day pagans follow. Another fascinating parallel with the following of Amun-Ptah-Re trinity was that this god was said to have calmed the storms of the water when sailors called upon him for help. This is one of the many deeds that Christ performed in his life...as recorded in the New Testament.
Aten, The Substitute Amun-Ra
Oh, the controversy! Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) decided to introduce a "new" god to the Egyptian people in the eighteenth dynasty...that new god being Aten...the supreme sun god (according to Akhenaten of course). Aten was pictured as, well, basically the sun with rays that ended with magical hands and sometimes wings. For a long time a lot of scholars thought that Akhenaten had tried to make Aten the one god to be worshipped...turning ancient Egypt into a monotheism instead of the usual polytheism. Historians and archaeologists have found this theory to be untrue, as it appears other sun gods were still worshipped in the time of Akhenaten's reign...but perhaps the worship of other gods was done a bit quietly so as not to anger this new god's rage.
Aten's worship centers, or cult center, were located at Karnak, Thebes, Heliopolis, and Akhetaten. After Akhenaten died, the worship of Aten (the powerful new sun god) was pretty much abandoned and other sun gods that were worshipped before the Pharoah's reign began to pop back up (including Amun-Ra)...eventually the Egyptians reverted fully back to a polytheistic way of religion. Sorry, Akhenaten...nice try, though.
Sekhmet, One Bad-@ss Cat
Sekhmet was the goddess to be feared. She was a lion-headed goddess with a ravenous appetite for her enemies. When I think of Sekhmet, I think that she is the embodiment of female power and wrath...the darker side of woman that not many women these days let out. Sekhmet represents that stronger female in all of us...powerful and fearless and ready to take action against wrongdoing. Sekhmet was at the right hand of Ma'at...the goddess of justice. She made sure that justice was truly carried out to the satisfaction of the gods.
Sekhmet was mentioned a few times in the Book of the Dead as being Ma'at's protector or more specifically, "The One who loves Ma'at and detests all that is evil". I find it quite intriguing that the ancient Egyptians gave the role of carrying out justice to a goddess and not a god. Many people believe that because Sekhmet was envisioned as a ravenous lioness, the original belief could have been brought to Egypt from Sudan...where there are many more lions present. Sekhmet was also said to have the power to send plagues against her enemies...biblical type sh*t! The legend has it that when the sun god Ra noticed so much sin occurring in the ancient land of Egypt, he decided to send his daughter "Hathor" to earth to punish the sinners. When Hathor reached Earth, she turned into Sekhmet which means "the eye of Ra". Sekhmet was said to have covered the earth in human blood and denied her father's wishes to stop. Apparently she acquired a ferocious lust for blood and would not stop for anyone's pleas...least of all her mighty father's. In order for Ra to stop his vengeful daughter, he poured out thousands of jugs of beer and pomegranate juice in Sekhmet's path so that she drank it...thinking it was blood. She ended up becoming intoxicated and passed out. When she woke up out of her drunken sleep, her blood lust was said to have diminished and humanity was once again safe. Maybe Ra should have thought it out a little more before sending an angry lion-goddess to devour the sin-filled Egyptians.
Unfortunately when the New Kingdom ushered in the triad of Amun, Mut, and Ra, the belief and following of the goddess Sekhmet sort of got sucked into the triad and Sekhmet merged with the goddess Mut. Okay, I said unfortunately...not because Sekhmet was a blood-thirsty lion vamp but because to me, Sekhmet represents woman in all her glory...dark and powerful.
Mummification of this Hub
Or in other words, let me wrap up this hub.
Who was your favorite ancient Egyptian god or goddess? Do you know of any others that deserved to be mentioned here? I would love to hear other legends and myths of the ancient Egyptian pantheon.
More on Ancient Egypt:
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- Fertility and Pregnancy in Ancient Egypt
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