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Egyptian mythology

Egyptian mythology (or Egyptian religion) is the name for the succession of beliefs held by the people of Egypt until the coming of Christianity and Islam.

The timespan involved is nearly three thousand years, and beliefs varied considerably over time, so an article or, indeed, even one whole book, cannot do more than outline the many entities and subjects in this complex system of beliefs. Egyptian Mythology is different from Greek or Roman Mythology, in that in Egyptian Mythology most deities are of human body and animal head or vice versa.

Pharaoh and his family adoring the .
Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family adoring the Aten.


  • [To do]
    • Egyptian Burial Chambers
    • Natural mummies

There were several elements to account for.

  1. the name
  2. the heart
  3. the body
  4. the shadow
  5. the ka
  6. the ba
  7. the akh


Egyptians believed they may rlife]]. Egyptians believed that the soul (or the Ka (human personality)) could survive death if the body was preserved. Therefore, embalming and mummification was practiced. The weighing the heart occurred before proceeding to either the afterlife or the devourer.

Book of the dead

Main article: Book of the Dead

The Book of the Dead was a series of almost two hundred magical texts, songs and pictures written on papyrus, which were buried along with the dead in order to ease their passage into the underworld. In some tombs, the Book of the Dead has also been found painted on the walls. One of the best examples of the Book of the Dead is "The Papyrus of Ani", created around 1240 BC . In addition to the texts themselves, it also contains many pictures of Ani and his wife on their journey through the land of the dead.

Egyptians saw death as being the start of a dangerous journey, rather than the end of life. The goal of this journey was to reach the land of the gods. In order to reach the land where the gods dwelt, and to live amongst them, they must first travel through the land of the dead. Each Book of the Dead was tailored to some extent for the individual who would be taking the journey. It contained the spells and hymns thought to be most appropriate to the life that the person had led, as well as the pleas and speeches that would be used to pass each test on the journey. Crucially, these included the test of the Weighing of the Heart.

The weighing of the heart

To the Egyptian, the heart notes all good and bad deeds of a person's life. It was the data that is analyzed in a ceremony, upon death, in a judgment for afterlife. The ceremony of the weighing of the heart occurred in the Hall of Judgement . The deceased is led into the hall by Anupu (Anubis). The deceased's heart is placed on one scale pans and weighed against the Mat's feather of truth. Anubis then adjusts the scale's plummet . Djehuty (Thoth) records the verdict. The deceased is taken by Hor (Horus) before Ausare (Osiris) after a proper verdict if rendered in favor. The demon Ammit the Devourer, "Eater of Hearts" – part crocodile, part lion, and part hippopotamus – destroys those whom the verdict is against.

(A majority of historians believe that there is no Book of the Dead. It is said that the enchantments were too sacred to be written down on anything. I would best relate this to scops of ancient Anglo-Saxon history).

External influences

Egypt exchanged ideas with Libya during its early unsettled period. Egypt was also influenced by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasties, which ruled Egypt for 300 years. Cleopatra was the only Ptolemaic queen to rule on her own. Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, and was ruled first from Rome and then from Constantinople (until the Arab conquest).

Libyan period

Main article: Libyan Egypt
22nd - 25th Dynasty

Egypt has long had ties with Libya. After the death of Rameses XI, the priesthood in the person of Herihor wrest control of Egypt away from the Pharaohs until they were superseded (without any apparent struggle) by the Libyan kings of the 22nd Dynasty ., The first king of the new Dynasty served as a general under the last ruler of the 21st Dynasty. It is known that he appointed his own son to be the High Priest of Amun, a post that was previously a hereditary appointment. The scant and patchy nature of the written records from this period suggest that it was unsettled. There appear to have been many subversive groups which eventually led to the creation of the 23rd dynasty which ran concurrent with the 22nd .

Ptolemaic period

Main article: Greek Egypt
304 BC - 30 BC

Started with Ptolemy I of Egypt and ended with Cleopatra VII. As Ptolemy I Soter ("Saviour"), he founded the Ptolemaic dynasty, which was to rule Egypt for 300 years. All the male rulers of the dynasty took the name "Ptolemy". Because the Ptolemaic kings adopted the Egyptian custom of marrying their sisters, many of the kings ruled jointly with their spouses, who were also of the royal house. This custom made Ptolemaic politics confusingly incestuous, and the later Ptolemies were increasingly feeble. The last of the Ptolemies, the famous Cleopatra, was the only Ptolemaic queen to rule on her own, after the death of her brother/husband, Ptolemy XIII.

Roman period

Main article: Roman Egypt
30 BC - 639 AD

Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, and was ruled first from Rome and then from Constantinople (until the Arab conquest). The most revolutionary event in the history of Roman Egypt was the introduction of Christianity in the 2nd century. It was at first vigorously persecuted by the Roman authorities, who feared religious discord more than anything else in a country where religion had always been paramount. But it soon gained adherents among the Jews of Alexandria. From them it rapidly passed to the Greeks, and then to the native Egyptians, who found its promise of personal salvation and its teachings of social equality appealing.

Monotheism developments

A short period of monotheism (Atenism) occurred under the reign of Akhenaten, focused on the Egyptian sun deity Aten. Akhenaten outlawed the worship of any other god and built a new capital (Amarna) around the temple for Aten. The religious change survived only until the death of Akhenaten's nephew Tutankhamun, being highly unpopular and quickly reverted afterwards. In fact, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's removals from the Wall of Kings are likely related to the radical religious change.

According to some Egyptologists, it is incorrect to regard this period as monotheistic. People did not worship the Aten but worshipped the royal family as a pantheon of gods who received their divine power from the Aten. Afterward, the original Egyptian pantheon survived more or less as the dominant faith, until the establishment of Coptic Christianity and later Islam, even though the Egyptians had encountered monotheism in other cultures (e.g. Hebrews). Egyptian mythology put up surprisingly little resistance to the spread of Christianity. Possibly its long history of collaboration with the Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt had robbed it of its authority.


Many temples are still standing today. Others are in ruins from wear and tear, while others have been lost entirely. Pharaoh Ramses II was a particularly prolific builder of temples.

Some known temples include:

  • Abu Simbel – Complex of two massive rock temples in southern Egypt on the western bank of the Nile.
  • Abydos (Great Temple of Abydos) – Adoration of the early kings, whose cemetery, to which it forms a great funerary chapel, lies behind it.
  • Ain el-Muftella (Bahariya Oasis ) – Could have served as the city center of El Qasr. It was probably built around the 26th Dynasty.
  • Karnak – Once part of the ancient capital of Egypt, Thebes.
  • Bani Hasan al Shurruq – Located in Middle Egypt near to Al-Minya and survived the reconstruction of the New Kingdom.
  • Edfu – Ptolemaic temple that is located between Aswan and Luxor.
  • Temple of Kom Ombo – Controlled the trade routes from Nubia to the Nile Valley.
  • Luxor – Built largely by Amenhotep III and Ramesses II, it was the center of the festival of Opet.
  • Medinet Habu (Memorial Temple of Ramesses III) – Temple and a complex of temples dating from the New Kingdom.
  • Temple of Hatshepsut – Mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri with a colonnaded structure of perfect harmony, built nearly one thousand years before the Parthenon.
  • Philae – Island of Philae with Temple of Aset which was constructed in the 30th Dynasty.
  • Ramesseum (Memorial Temple of Ramesses II) – The main building, dedicated to the funerary cult, comprised two stone pylons (gateways, some 60 m wide), one after the other, each leading into a courtyard. Beyond the second courtyard, at the centre of the complex, was a covered 48-column hypostyle hall, surrounding the inner sanctuary.
  • Dendera Temple complex – Several temples but the all overshadowing building in the complex is the main temple, the Hathor temple.

The World


Ptah ("The Creator") was a creator god and patron deity of craftsmen and king of the underworld. In some myths, he created Ra as well. Mehturt ("great flood"; also Mehurt, Mehet-Weret, Mehet-uret) is the goddess of the part of the sky where the sun exists, i.e. the places where Ra proceedes across the sky. Amun, "the hidden one", was the "lord of the thrones of the two lands," and more proudly still, "king of the gods.". Ra came from the mound that came from the waters of Nu, or a lotus flower. Ra was the "king of the gods": the rule of heaven belonged to the sun-god, and this identification with Re was only logical for a supreme deity. Aten is the name given to the solar disk, who rejoices in the horizon in his name of the light which is in the sun disk.


Order and chaos

Mat was the goddess of truth, justice and order. Maat is more of a concept of balance, justice, and truth than an actual deity. In the underworld, Ma'at's headband supplied the Feather of Truth.

Seth was a god of strength, war, storms, foreign lands and deserts in Egyptian mythology. He was closely associated with the god Ash. He was 'great of strength' and caused storms, evils, and confusion. Seth protected the sun (Re) as he journeyed through the land of the dead during the night. Most notably, he fought and killed Apep, the evil serpent of darkness who attacked Re each night

Heaven and earth


The Ogdoad created the mound that Ra came from and the mound came from the waters of Nu. Ra was the "king of the gods": the rule of heaven belonged to the sun-god, and this identification with Re was only logical for a supreme deity. Aten is a sun god in ancient Egyptian mythology, and represented by the sun's disk.



Thoth, pronounced "tot", is the Greek name given to Djehuty, the Egyptian god of the moon (lunar deity), wisdom, writing, magic, and measurement of time, among other things. Chons (alternately Khensu, Khons, Khonsu or Khonshu) is also a lunar deity, and a son of Amun and Mut.


Hathor ("the house of Horus") was a fertility goddess, positioned as the celestial cow which encircles the sky and hawk god, Hor (Horus). She was also a goddess of royalty. Hathor was portrayed as a cow with a stylized sun between her horns, or a woman wearing a headdress with horns, the stylized sun and sometimes a uraeus. Hathor was both the daughter and wife of Ra. Hathor and Ra once argued, and she left Egypt. Ra quickly decided he missed her, but she changed into a cat that destroyed any man or god that approached. Thoth, disguised, eventually succeeded in convincing her to return. Bat was another goddess of fertility.

Horus was a falcon-god of law and order, later associated with the sun god Ra where they combined especially at Heliopolis and became "Horus of the two horizons", "Horus upon the horizon", and god of the morning sun. Heru-ur (also called Harmerti) was a falcon creator-god who was known for restraining Apep. His eyes were the sun and the moon; during a new moon, he was blind and was "he who has no eyes" and "he who has eyes". While blind, Horus was quite dangerous, sometimes attacking his friends after mistaking them for enemies. He was a son of Geb and Nut and was the patron god of Sekhem/Sokhmt/Letopolis . "Horus the child" was a son of either Ausare and Aset (Osiris and Isis) or Banebdjetet and Hatmehit. Later Horus became absolutely aligned as a son of the dead body of Osiris and Isis (alternatively: he emerged from Saosis' acacia tree). Horus was Osiris' bodyguard in the underworld, Duat. A war between Set and Horus was fought, lasting for eighty years. Horus was the father of the four gods associated with the canopic jars of Egyptian funerary beliefs: Imset, Hapi, Duamutef, and Kebechsenef.


Ausare (Osiris), the life-death-rebirth deity, was the fertility and agricultural deity. With his wife, Aset (Isis), he was the father of Horus. Ptah was the chthonic god. Chnum was the god of the Nile River delta.


The Nile

Annual Nile flooding was from the solar deity, Hapy ("runner"), and was the symbolization of the annual flood of the Nile River which deposited rich silt on the banks and allowed the Egyptians to grow crops.

The river Nile gave life to the entire Egyptian civilisation. Its annual spring floods bringing water and rich nutrients to fields that would otherwise be swallowed up by the Sahara Desert. The river provided food, transportation, building materials and papyrus. Egypt's new year was deemed to begin at the flooding of the Nile. The river's course, from south to north, was seen as being in perfect harmony with the sun god Ra's daily journey from west to east in his boat across the ocean of sky. It was the Pharaoh's duty each year to influence the gods and bring forth the floods, as well as organising the building and repair of the irrigation systems. His success or failure as a ruler was measured by the prosperity brought by the Nile. The Nile itself did not play a major role in Egyptian religious beliefs. It was known simply as "the river".

See also

Further reading

  • Schulz, R. and M. Seidel, "Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs". Knemann, Cologne 1998. ISBN 3895089133
  • Budge, E. A. Wallis, "Egyptian Religion: Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life (Library of the Mystic Arts)". Citadel Press. August 1, 1991. ISBN 0806512296
  • Harris, Geraldine, John Sibbick, and David O'Connor, "Gods and Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology". Bedrick, 1992. ISBN 0872269078
  • Hart, George, "Egyptian Myths (Legendary Past Series)". University of Texas Press (1st edition), 1997. ISBN 0292720769
  • Pinch, Geraldine, "Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt". Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0195170245

External links and references

Egyptian mythology articles

See the Egyptian mythology topics article for particular deities.

Notes on Pronunciation

A "received pronunciation" of the names of ancient Egyptian deities has formed. By and large, this pronunciation is acceptable for most consonants and utterly wrong for the vowels. The actual vowels of ancient Egyptian are essentially unknown. Egyptologists developed a set of conventions to make it easier to talk about the terms they used. Two distinct different glottal consonants were both replaced with "a". A consonant similar to the "y" in the English word "yet" was replaced with "i". A consonant similar to the "w" in the English word "well" was replaced with "u". Then, "e" was inserted between other consonants. Thus, for example, the Egyptian king whose name is most accurately transcribed as "R?-mss" is known as "Rameses", even though cuneiform tablets that mention him suggest that a more accurate rendering with vowels might have been "Ri`amasesa".

See also: Egyptian language

External links

Last updated: 10-12-2005 00:54:18
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