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Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

Darkness was all there was in the beginning. The Ogdoad then awakened – Nun and Naunet, Amun and Amaunet, Ku and Kauket, and Hu and Haunet. In concert they raised a hill out of the first waters. An egg was on this hill, and from it, the god Atum – the father of all – was born.

The Ogdoad then withdrew to see the manner in which the world would unfold, leaving Atum all alone. Atum then spat on the primeval ground, thus giving birth to his daughter, Tefnut, and son, Shu. Atum gave his blessings to Tefnut and Shu, giving them great powers. To Tefnut he granted power over moisture, and to Shu he granted power over the sky and earth. Together they set about separating the sky from the world, and the land from the water.

During this great upheaval, however, Tefnut and Shu got lost in the chaotic darkness, for they did not have Atum’s power to surmount it. In his great grief Atum ripped out his all-seeing eye, bidding it to seek Tefnut and Shu, and bring them back. Soon Tefnut and Shu came back with the eye, which Atum affixed on his crown in order to be able to see all. (This is the eye that can be seen in the pharaoh’s crown, the Udjat Eye.)

The sight of his children filled Atum with joy, which caused him to weep great tears. When the tears fell on the ground, it caused life to spring up all over the earth. Tefnut was taken as wife by Shu, and she gave birth to Nut and Geb. Nut became the goddess of the celestial sphere, held up by Tefnut and Shu, and Geb became the god of the earth.

Nut, thereafter, gave birth to the gods Set and Osiris and the goddesses Nephthys and Isis by her brother and husband, Geb. They were the very first gods and goddesses of men and the world, while the rest became the great gods of the sky and earth.

So goes an ancient Egyptian lore of the story of creation and the birth of their gods and goddesses. There are many such fascinating mythological tales about ancient Egypt.

In fact, each region in Egypt had its own myths of creation and how their gods and goddesses came to be. These usually featured the most prominent deity that was worshipped locally, which they believed was the god that was responsible. However, the most prevalent amongst them all was the mythological tale of the Ogdoad, who were the primal gods, responsible for creating the first matter from nothingness, and then withdrawing to watch how things would unfold.

The ancient Egyptian mythological concepts of creation and beliefs in their gods and goddesses appear in several sources such as the Pyramid Texts, The Book of the Dead, The Memphite Theology, Coffin Texts, Wisdom Texts, various hymns, as well as wall bas-reliefs. These mythological cosmogonies, however, only deal with how the gods and goddesses created the world, without addressing directly the creation of human beings and other creatures. In fact, the ancient Egyptians had a separate tradition explaining the creation of mankind and animals in their mythology of Khnum, who was the potter-god.

The Egyptians were of the belief that their gods and goddesses, who were often depicted as partly human and partly animal, were closely involved in all facets of life. They brought forth the rain, they were the ones who were responsible for birth and death, they were the ones who controlled the growth of crops, and they were the ones who ultimately determined everything. Nothing that happened was caused by chance. The Egyptians did not provide natural explanations to occurrences, because they did not make any distinction between the sacred and the secular. Although it is not possible to list all the 2000 gods and goddesses that the polytheistic Egyptians held sacred, here are some of them:

Amun-Re:

This god was made up of Amun and Re, the sun god. This was the god who was the most important in the New Kingdom – the Egyptian civilization was divided into three parts, the Old, the Middle, and the New Kingdoms. Amun-Re was thought to have a hidden persona, because the meaning of Amun is hidden. It was believed that Amun-Re handed the ‘scimitar of conquest’ to the New Kingdom’s warrior pharaohs like Ramses II and Tuthmosis III. The temple of Karnak, at Thebes was consecrated to him.

Osiris:

Osiris was the god of well cultivated land and it is thought that he was originally a fertility and harvest god. He had a brother named Set, who hated him and therefore killed him. After his death Osiris became the ruler of the underworld. This was the place Ancient Egyptians hoped they would go to on their death. According to the descriptions given about this underworld, it resembled Egypt a lot. Set was the opposite of Osiris, standing for desert-land and disorder. It is said that Horus, the son of Osiris, is fighting Set, in order to avenge the murder of his father.

Bastet:

Although originally a lion, this goddess is represented as a cat. She stands for fertility, and she could ripen crops by the power of the sun. Her figurines were used as protection. She is thought to be the sun god, Re’s, daughter.

Ptah:

Ptah is depicted as a shrouded mummy with a scull cap on his head and a beard on his chin. He holds the Djed, which is the sign of stability, in one hand, and the ankh, considered the symbol of life, in the other. It is said that all things were brought into being by Ptah thinking about them with his mind and speaking of them with his tongue. Hence, unlike the other gods of creation, who created with their actions, Ptah used his mind to create. The cult center for Ptah was Memphis, where the priests who were devoted to him enounced that it was Ptah’s heart and tongue that brought forth the gods, founded cities, and kept order.

Anqet:

The goddess of the Nile at Aswan and of fertility, Anqet has many other names. During the period of the Old Kingdom she was known as Anket, Anjet, Anukis and Anuket. Her name means ‘She Who Embraces’, because it was thought that she held the Nile in her arms. She was also thought to be the goddess of the hunt, and her sacred animal was the gazelle, which she sometimes appears as. She is depicted as a woman with a tall headdress made of ostrich feathers or reeds, which is thought to have Nubian origins.

While it was Egypt that gave shape to the gods and goddesses that were worshiped in the land, later it was they that shaped Egypt. This was because, once the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses were developed fully, the people of the land sought their help, protection, inspiration and guidance. Hence, it is said that while the gods and goddesses could not have come into existence without Egypt, neither could Egypt have existed without this ancient civilization’s gods and goddesses.

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