Egyptian MythologyULTIMATE INFINITE
(1) Isis, the sorrowing wife and eternal mother, Protectoress of the dead, the Goddess stands
mourning with upraised arms at the foot of a sarcophagus. She bears a throne upon Her
head, the ideogram of Her Name. Below is thedjed (symbol of stability), which also
represents Her husband, Osirsis
2 Horus, in the form of a falcon, with a human arm, delivers six thousand captives to King
Narmer, who is brandishing his mace over the defeated chief.
First dynasty, (c) 3200
No one who strolls through the Egyptian galleries of a museum can fail to be struck by the
multitude of divinities, who attract attention on all sides. Colossal statutes in sandstone, grantite,
and basalt, minute statues in glazed composition, bronze even gold, portray gods and goddess
frozen in hierarchical attitudes, seated or standing. Sometimes these male or female figures have
heads with human features. More often they are surmounted by the muzzle of an animal or the
beak of a bird. The same divinities are receiving adoration and offerings, or performing ritual
gestures for the benefit of their worshippers, can be seen again on the bas-reliefs of massive
sarcophagi or sculptured on funerary stelaw and stone blocks stripped from temple walls. They
recur on mummy cases and in the pictures, which illumated the papyri of the Book of the Dead.
In view of such amultipicity of divine images it may seem strange to suggest that the
religion of Ancient Egypt is very imperfectly known to us. Such however is the case; though we
know the names of all these Gods and Goddesses and the temples which They were worshipped,
we understand little of their nature and seldom know even the legends concerning them.
It is true that the innumerable religious texts which have survived often allude to
mythological occurences. The full stories themselves, however, are almost never set down; for
they were known to every Egyptian and handed down from generation-to-generation by word of
Only the myths of Osiris--one of the greatest Gods in the Egyptian pantheon---has been
transmitted in detail to us by Plutarch. Plutarch, though Greek and writing of times already long
past, was evidently well-informed; for in the ancient texts we find frequent references ti the events
he relates, notably in those texts, which, the old kings of the sixth dynasty had engraved inside
their pyramids--25 centuries before him.
It seems that the earliest representations of Eyptian deities appeared about the middle of
the fourth millennium, long before the earliest hieroglyphs. In those days, the inhabitants of the
Nile valley lived in tribes. Each tribe had its own God, which was incarnated in the form either of
an animal, of a bird or of a simple fetish. There is a fragment of a palette for grinding malachite in
the Louvre on which we see men of one of those early tribes setting forth to hunt. They are
bearded, unlike the clean-shaven men of later historical epochs, and they wear only a belted
loincloth. At the back of the belt is attached the bushy tail of an animal. At their head marches
their chief. In one hand he brandishes a club. In the other he grasps the staff of a standard or totem
pole, which bears a kind of perch for a falcon. On other objects of the same class the hawk is
replaced by an ibis, a jackal, a scorpion, or perhaps by a thunderbolt, a bucranium, or two crossed
arrows on a shield. These are the Gods of the tribe who led their followers into battle and, when
necessary, fought for them. Often, indeed, one of the divine animal's paws is a human hand which
grasps a weapon to slaughter the enemy or an implement to attack his fortress.
These animal deities, however, gradually gave way to Gods in human form, and at the end
of his anthropomorphic evolution nothing of the primitive animal is left except the head
surmounting the body of a man or woman. Sometimes the head, too, has become human and all
that remains are vestigial ears or horns.
From the second dynasty on, the divine types seem to have become definitely fixed and to
remain unchanged until the end of paganism. Like the hunters of the ancient tribes seen on the
palette in the Louvre, the Gods of the historical epoch are shown "dressed in short loin-cloths
ornamented by animals' tails. The Goddesses, like great ladies, wear a narrow robe, held at the
shoulders by shoulder straps and falling nearly to their ankles.
Gods and Goddesses alike often retain the head of the animal from which they were
derived. They wear heavy wigs, thanks to which the transition between the snout of an animal or
the beak of a bird and their human bodies takes place so smoothly that our aesthetic sense is
scarcely violated and these hybrid beings seem almost real.
At other times the head is human, and in this case the shaven chin of the God is adorned
by an artificial plaited beard, which recalls the bearded faces of the first Egyptians.
These divinities are distinguished and immediately identified by their different headdresses
and by various attributes inherited from the original fetish or from the primitive animal
which surmounts their heads. Sometimes too their names are written in hieroglyphic signs. Like
the ancient tribal chieftains, the Gods carry sceptres with one end forked and the other decorated
by, say, the head of a greyhound. Goddesses bear in their hand a simple stalk of papyrus.
By the time that the animals and fetishes of the prehistoric epoch had become divinities in
human form the nomad warriors whom they once led into battle had long since settled down to
till the soil. Their Gods were installed in the towns they built, and were thus transformed from
tribal into local deities. Every town, village and district had its God who bore the title: 'Lord of the
City. There he resided and yielded priority of rank to no one. Conceived in the image of a man,
but of a man infinitely strong and powerful, he possessed a vital fluid - the 'sa' - which he could
renew at will by having another God, better provided, lay hands on him. But he could not defend
himself for ever against old age, and sometimes he even died. He delighted in revealing himself to
men, and he would become incarnate in the temple statue, in a fetish, or in a chosen animal which
the initiated could recognise by certain signs.
At first the God lived alone, jealous of his authority. But the Egyptian could not conceive of
life without a family and soon he married off his God or Goddess and gave him or her a son, thus
forming a divine triad or trinity in which the father, moreover, was not always the chief,
contenting himself on occasion with the role of prince consort, while the principal deity of the
locality remained the Goddess. This occurred at Dendera, where the sovereign was the Goddess
The God resided in the temple, which was his palace, with his family and sometimes with
other Gods whom he permitted to surround him. Only Pharaoh, the king, whom he called his 'son'
had the right to appear in his presence. But as the king naturally could not officiate everywhere at
once he delegated high priests to each sanctuary to perform in his place the ceremonies of the cult,
while numerous priests and priestesses composed the domestic staff of the God and administered
his sometimes immense domains. On certain dates the 'Lord of the City' brought joy to his people
by deigning to show himself to them in all his glory. Abandoning the deep shadows of the naos
(the inner sanctuary of the temple) where only Pharaoh's representative had the privilege of
worshipping him daily, he would emerge majestically and be borne through the streets in his
golden barque on the shoulders of his priests.
In addition to such local Gods, some of whom imposed their authority over several
provinces at a time and even throughout the entire land, the Egyptians worshipped, though
generally without cult, the great divinities of nature: the Sky, the Earth, the Sun the Moon and the
mighty river which, in the words of Herodotus, created Egypt - the Nile.
In the Egyptian language the word 'sky' is feminine. Thus the Egyptians made the sky a Goddess,
Nut or Hathor, whom they represented either as a cow standing with her four feet planted on
earth, or as a woman whose long, curved body touches the earth only with the tips of her toes and
fingers. It was the starry belly of the Goddess which men saw shining in the night above them
Sometimes also they imagined the sky as the head of a divine falcon whose eyes, which he opened
and closed alternately, were the sun and the moon.
The earth, on the contrary, is masculine. Thus it was a man lying prone, from whose back
sprouted all the world's vegetation. They called him Geb, the earth-God.
The sun had many names and gave rise to extremely vast interpretations. In his aspect of
solar disk the sun was called Aten. Depending upon whether he rose, or climbed to the zenith, on
he was given the names Khepri, Ra or Atum. He was also call Horus and it was under this name,
joined with that of Ra, that later reigned over all Egypt as Ra-Harakhte. It was claimed that he was
reborn every morning of the celestial cow like a suckling calf, or like a little child of the sky-
Goddess. He was also said , be a falcon with speckled wings flying through space, or the right eye
only of the great divine bird. Another conception of him was that of an egg laid daily by the
celestial goose, or more frequently a gigantic scarab rolling before him the incandescent globe of
the sun as, on earth, the sacred scarab rolls the ball of dung in which it has deposited its eggs.
The moon, too, was called by different names: Aah, Thoth, Khons. Sometimes he was the
son of Nut, the sky-Goddess. Sometimes he was a dog-headed ape, or an ibis; at others, the left eye
of the great celestial hawk whose right eye was the sun.
Not content with explaining the phenomena of the external world, the priests of the
principal sanctuaries busied themselves in constructing cosmological systems to demonstrate how
the Gods had successively appeared and how all that exists had been created. We have a fair
knowledge of four of these systems which were taught in the four great religious centres of
Hermopolis, Heliopolis, Memphis and Busiris. In each of these sanctuaries the priests attributed
the work of creation to the great local God.
In his own temple Thoth, Ra, Ptah and Osiris was each proclaimed to have created the
world, but each in his own way. Sometimes it was taught that the Gods had issued from the
mouth of Demiurge and that all had been created by his voice. Sometimes it was alleged that they
were bora when the creator spat or performed an even cruder act. Again it was said that men had
been engendered by his sweat or by a flood of tears gushing from his eyes. Another explanation
was that men, together with the entire animal world, had emerged from the sun-dried mud of the
Nile. It was also taught that the Demiurge had modelled them from the earth and fashioned them
on a potter's wheel.
Like all people in antiquity the Egyptians explained everything by the intervention of a
God, and for them there was nothing which was not capable of containing supernatural power.
Consequently the number of Gods worshipped in the Nile valley was considerable, and a list
found in the tomb of Thuthmosis III enumerates no fewer than seven hundred and forty. Of most
of them we know only the names and it would serve no useful purpose to mention them here.
We shall limit ourselves in this study to those deities who enjoyed a genuine cult or who
occupied a real place in Egyptian mythology, beginning with the study of the Gods and
Goddesses associated with the Ennead (or company of Gods) of Heliopolis that is to say, with the
cosmological system taught by the priests of Heliopolis. We shall then review the great protective
divinities of the Pharaohs and the kingdom, enumerating them in chronological order when in the
course of the royal dynasties they appeared particularly important.
Afterwards we shall come to river Gods and desert Gods included in the above categories;
then to the various divinities who concerned themselves with men's birth or death; and finally
who deified humans among whom will be found the living Pharoah who was himself a veritable
We shall conclude with a study of the sacred animals which towards the end of paganism,
were without doubt the most popular divinities in Egypt. We append a list of quadrupeds, birds
and even insects from whom the Gods and Goddesses borrowed either the features or the
THE ENNEAD OF HELIOPOLIS AND THE FAMILY OF OSIRIS
Nun (or Nu) is Chaos,
The primordial ocean in which before the creation lay the germs of all things and all
beings. The texts call him the 'father of the Gods, but he remains a purely intellectual concept and
had neither temples nor worshippers. He is sometimes found represented as a personage plunged
up to his waist in water, holding up his arms to support the Gods who have issued from him.
Atom (or Turn), whose name seems to come from a root which signified 'not to be' and 'to be
complete, was originally a local God of Heliopolis where his sacred animal was the bull Merwer
(Greek Mneuis). From very early times his priests identified him with Ra, the great sun God. They
taught that inside Nun, before the creation, there had lived a 'spirit, still formless, who bore within
him the sum of all existence. He was called Atum, and he manifested himself one day under the
name of Atum-Ra and drew from himself Gods, men and all living things.
Later, Atum was personified as the setting sun and the sun before its rising. His cult spread
rather widely through Egypt, conjointly with that of Ra.
Atum was ordinarily considered to be the ancestor of the human race. He is always
represented with a man's head, wearing the double crown of the Pharaohs - the 'pschent.
Originally unmarried, Atum was supposed to have fathered the first divine couple without the aid
of a wife. Only later was he given a spouse, indeed two - since at Memphis he was united
sometimes with Iusaas and sometimes with Nebhet Hotep, who bore him the twin Gods Shu and
Ra (or Re or Phra)
Which probably signifies 'creator, is the name of the sun, sovereign lord of the sky. He had
his principal sanctuary at Heliopolis. The priests of this city affirmed that it was here Ra first
manifested himself in the stone object in the form of an obelisk called benben, piously preserved in
the temple named for this reason Het Benben - the 'palace of the obelisk.
Formerly, according to the priests of Heliopolis, the Sun God reposed, under the name of
Atum, in the bosom of Nun, the primordial ocean. There, in order that his lustre should run no
risk of being extinguished, he took care to keep his eyes shut. He enclosed himself in the bud of a
lotus until the day when, weary of his own impersonality, he rose by an effort of will from the
abyss and appeared in glittering splendour under the name of Ra. He then bore Shu and Tefnut
who, in their turn, gave birth to Geb and Nut, from whom issued Osiris and Isis, Set and
Nephthys. These are the eight great Gods who with their chief Ra - or more exactly Ra Atum, since
Ra and Atum were identified with each other - form the divine company or Ennead of Heliopolis.
Ra drew from himself and without recourse to woman the first divine couple. It is not until much
later that he was given as his spouse Rat - which is only his own name feminised - or Iusaas, Eusos,
Uert-Hekeu, 'the great of magic. As for men and all other living creatures, it was said that they
came from Ra's tears - perhaps a play on words as 'tears' and 'men' sound the same in Egyptian.
At the same time Ra had created a 'first' universe, different from the present world, which
he governed from the 'Prince's Palace' in Heliopolis where he normally resided. The Books of the
Pyramids minutely describe for us his royal existence and how, after his morning bath and
breakfast, he would get into his boat and, in the company of his scribe, Weneg, inspect the twelve
provinces of his kingdom, spending an hour in each.
As long as Ra remained young and vigorous he reigned peacefully over Gods and men;
but the years brought with them their ravages and the texts depict him as an old man with
trembling mouth from which saliva ceaselessly dribbles. We shall see later how Isis took
advantage of the God's senility, made him reveal his secret name and thus acquired sovereign
Even men perceived Ra's decrepitude and plotted against him. These projects finally
reached Ra's ears. Justly enraged, he summoned his council and, having consulted the Gods one
by one on the measures which should be taken, he decided to hurl his divine Eye against his
rebellious subjects. Farther on we shall tell how the divine Eye (taking the form of the Goddess
Hathor) rushed upon the guilty and massacred them without pity until Ra, appeased, managed to
put an end to the bloodshed; for his goodness would not permit him to allow the entire human
race to be exterminated.
The ingratitude of men had, however, inspired in him a distaste for the world and a desire
to withdraw himself beyond reach. So on the orders of Nun, the Goddess Nut changed herself into
a cow and took Ra on her back. She raised him high into the vault of heaven and at the same time,
as we shall later relate, the present world was created.
From the moment that the sun God left earth for heaven his life was immutably regulated.
During the twelve daylight hours he rode in his boat from east to west across his kingdom. He
took great care to avoid the attack of his eternal enemy Apep, the great serpent who lived in the
depths of the celestial Nile and sometimes - for instance during total eclipses - succeeded in
swallowing the solar barque. But Apep was always at last vanquished by Ra's defenders and cast
back into the abyss.
During the twelve hours of darkness the perils which Ra faced were even greater. But
again they were overcome and at night he passed from cavern to cavern, receiving the
acclamations of the inhabitants of the underworld who waited with impatience for the light he
bore and after'his departure fell back into the agony of darkness.
Ra, it was also taught, was born each morning in the guise of a child who grew until
midday and afterwards fell into decline, to die that night an old man.
We see him represented in many fashions: as a royal child resting on the lotus from which
he sprang at his birth; as a man, -seated or walking, whose head is surmounted by the solar disk
around which is wreathed the Uraeus, the terrible sacred asp who spits flame and destroys the
God's enemies; as a man with a ram's head, Efu Ra, in whom the dead sun is embodied during his
Often also we find a personage with the head of a falcon, surmounted by a disk with the
Uraeus. This is Ra-Harakhte, the great solar God of Heliopolis, sovereign lord of Egypt. The forms
and names of Ra are innumerable and the Litanies of the Sun, engraved at the entrance of the
royal tombs, list no fewer than seventy-five.
Universally recognised as the creator and ruler of the world, Ra, with whom all the other
Gods were finally identified, became from the time of the Old Kingdom the divinity particularly
revered by the Pharaohs, who called themselves 'sons of Ra. One story tells us how the sun God
came to Reddedet, the high priest's wife, in the guise of her husband and how from this union
were born the three first kings of the fifth dynasty. Each time that a Pharaoh was conceived Ra
was said to return to earth to espouse the queen.
Of the celebrated sanctuary of Heliopolis, where the God was worshipped in the form of a
gigantic obelisk - a petrified sun's ray - and where he used to take the form of the bull Merwer, or,
at times, the bird Bennu, there remain to-day only shapeless ruins and an obelisk, the oldest in
Egypt, erected during the twelfth dynasty by the king, Senusert I.
Khepri (or Khepera)
Signifies at the same time 'scarab' and 'he who becomes. For the Heliopolitans he
represented the rising sun, which, like the scarab, emerges from its own substance and is reborn of
itself. Khepri was the God of the transformations which life, for ever renewing itself, manifests. He
is represented as a scarab-faced man or as a man whose head is surmounted by this insect.
Sometimes he appears simply as a scarab.
Who with Tefnut his twin sister comprised the first couple of the Ennead, was created by
Ra without recourse to woman. His name derives from a verb which means 'to raise' and can be
translated as 'he who holds up. He is the Atlas of Egyptian mythology and supports the sky. It
was told of him how, on the orders of Ra, he slipped between the two children, Geb the Earth
God, and Nut, Goddess of the sky, who had until then been closely united. He threw them
violently apart and elevated Nut high into the air, where he maintained her with his upraised
Shu is also the God of air: emptiness deified. But like the other great divinities of nature he
enjoyed no especial cult.
He is always represented in human form. On his head he normally wears, as a distinctive
sign, an ostrich feather which is an ideogram of his name.
Shu succeeded Ra as king on earth. But like his father he experienced the vicissitudes of
power; for the children of Apep plotted against him and attacked him in his palace of At Nub. He
vanquished them, but disease riddled him so that even his faithful followers revolted. Weary of
reigning, Shu abdicated in favour of his son Geb and took refuge in the skies after a terrifying
tempest which lasted nine days.
Seems to have been a theological conception rather than a real person. At Heliopolis she
was said to be Shu's twin sister and wife, but she appears to have been paired in earlier times with
a certain God Tefen of whom we know nothing but the name.
Goddess of the dew and the rain, it seems, she also had a solar character. She was
worshipped in the form of a lioness or of a woman with the head of a lioness, and the Greeks
sometimes identified her with Artemis. She is depicted in the texts as a pale copy of Shu, whom
she helps to support the sky and with whom each morning she receives the new-born sun as it
breaks free from the eastern mountains.
(The Greek rendering is Onouris) seems to signify 'he who leads what has gone away' but
has also been translated as 'sky- bearer. God of Sebennytus and This, it is believed that he
symbolized the creative power of the sun. He was very soon identified with Shu and invoked
under the name Anhur-Shu. He is assumed to be a warlike personification of Ra, and was
identified by the Greeks as Ares, the God of battle.
He is represented with the traits of a warrior wearing a headdress adorned with four tall
straight plumes. He is covered by a long embroidered robe and often brandishes a lance.
Sometimes he holds the cord by which he leads the sun. Legend recounts to an Eye of Ra which
had fled from Egypt was brought back from Nubia by Anhur, and how this divine Eye became
enraged upon seeing that another Eye had taken its place. Ra then set it on the forehead where it
became the Uraeus which protected the God against his enemies.
Anhur was very popular under the New Empire and was called 'the Saviour' and 'the Good
Warrior. He was fervently invoked against enemies and against noxious animals, whom he
hunted without respite from his chariot. His popularity was of long duration; Herodotus speaks of
the great festivals he saw celebrated at Papremis and of the innumerable cudgel blows which
priests and the faithful enthusiastically exchanged in honor of their God.
As a wife Anhur was given Mehit, who seems to be a mere double of Tefnut, the sister-wife of
Shu. She was worshipped at This, and is pictured as a lion-headed Goddess.
Geb (or Seb, Keb)
Constituted with Nut the second pair in the Ennead. Plutarch identifies him with Cronus.
In reality he was the earth-God, the physical foundation of the world; but in classic times he
scarcely had anything resembling a cult.
We have already seen how Geb had been separated by Shu from Nut, his sister-spouse.
Since that time he had remained inconsolable and his lamentations could be heard night and day.
Geb is often represented lying under the feet of Shu, again whom he had vainly struggled to
defend his wife. Raised on one elbow, with one knee bent, he thus symbolizes the mountains and
the undulations of the earth's crust. His body is sometimes covered with verdure.
Geb is nearly always depicted as a man without special atributes, but on occasion his head
is surmounted by a goose, which is an ideogram of his name. Certain legends, moreover, describe
him as a, gander - the 'Great Cackler' - whose female has laid the Egg of the Sun. Others make him
a vigorous bull who has fertilized the celestial cow.
Most frequently, however, Geb was reputed to be the father and Nut the mother - of the
Osirian Gods, and for this reason was known as the 'father of the Gods.
He was the third divine Pharaoh and succeeded Shu to the thronr His reign also was
disturbed. One text tells us how Geb caused the golden box in which Ra's Uraeus was kept to be
opened in his presence. Ra had deposited the box, together with his cane and lock of his hair, in a
fortress on the eastern frontier of his empire as a potent and dangerous talisman. When opened,
the breath of the divine asp within killed all of Geb's companions then and there, and gravely
burned Geb himself. Only the lock of Ra's hair, applied to the wound, could heal Geb. So great,
indeed, was the virtue of this divine lock of hair that years later when it was plunged for
purification into the lake of At Nub it immediately turned into a crocodile. When he was restored
to health Geb administered his kingdom wisely and drew up a careful report on the condition of
every province and town in Egypt.
Then he handed over his sovereignty to his eldest son, Osiris, and ascended to the heavens
where at times he took the place of Thoth as Ra's herald and arbiter of the Gods.
Whom the Greeks sometimes identified with Rhea, was Goddess of the sky, but it is
debatable if in historical times she was the object of a genuine cult. She was Geb's twin sister and,
it was said, married him secretly and against the will of Ra. Angered, Ra had the couple brutally
separated by Shu and afterwards decreed that Nut could
not bear a child in any given month of any year. Thoth, Plutard tells us, happily had pity on her.
Playing draughts with the Moon he won in the course of several games a seventy-second part of
the Moon's light with which he composed five new days. As these few intercalated days did not
belong to the official Egyptian calender of three hundred and sixty days, Nut was thus able to give
birth successively to five children: Osiris, Haroeris (Horus), Set, Isis and Nephthys.
The sky-Goddess is often represented as a woman with elongated body, touching the earth
with toes and fingertips, while her star spangled belly is held aloft by Shu and forms the arch of
the heaven. She also sometimes appears as a cow; for this is the form she assumed when, on the
orders of Nun, she bore Ra on her back to the sky after Ra, as already related, decided to abandon
his rebellious subjects. The dutiful cow rose obediently to her feet, rose higher and higher until she
became dizzy and it was necessary to appoint a God to each of her four legs - which became the
four pillars of the sky - in order to steady them. Shu, meanwhile, supported her belly, which
became the firmament and to which Ra attached the stars and the constellations to light our earth.
Though she was often qualified by the title 'Daughter of Ra, Nut was also the mother of
the sun, which, as we have already had occasion to see, was reborn in various fashions each
morning from her womb.
When she is pictured as a woman Nut often wears a rounded vase on her head, this being
an ideogram of her name. She is protector of the dead and we frequently see her holding the
deceased close in her arms. On the inner lid of sarcophagi her starry body stretches above the
mummy, watching maternally over him.
Which is the Greek rendering of the Egyptian Ousir, was identified by the Greeks with
several of their own Gods, but principally with Dionysus and Hades. At first Osiris was a nature
God and embodied the spirit of vegetation which dies with the harvest to be reborn when the
grain sprouts. Afterwards he was worshipped throughout Egypt as God of the dead, and in this
capacity reached first rank in the Egyptian pantheon.
Hieroglyphic texts contain numerous allusions to the life and deeds of Osiris during his
sojourn on earth; but it is above all that to Plutarch that we know his legend so well.
The first son of Geb and Nut, he was born in Thebes in Upper Egypt. At his birth a loud,
mysterious voice proclaimed the coming of the 'Universal Lord, which gave rise to shouts of
gladness, soon followed by tears and lamentations when it was learned what misfortunes awaited
him. Ra rejoiced at the news of his birth in spite of the curse he had pronounced against Nut; and,
having Osiris brought into his presence, he recognized his great-grandson as heir to his throne.
Osiris was handsome of countenance, dark-skinned and tall than all other men. When Geb,
his father, retired to the heaven Osiris succeeded him as king of Egypt and took Isis, his sister as
queen. The first care of the new sovereign was to abolish cannibalism and to teach his still halfsavage
subjects the art of fashioning agricultural implements. He taught them how to produce
grain and grapes for man's nourishment in the form of bread, wine and beer. The cult of the Gods
did not yet exist. Osiris instituted it. He built the first temples and sculptured the first divine
images. He laid down the rules governing religious practice and even invented the two kinds of
flute which should accompany ceremonial song.
After this he built towns and gave his people just laws, thus meriting the name Onnophris
- 'the Good One' - by which, as the fourth divine Pharaoh, he was known.
Not satisfied with having civilised Egypt, he wished to spread the benefits of his rule
throughout the whole world. He left his regency to Isis and set forth on the conquest of Asia,
accompanied by Thoth, his grand vizier, and his lieutenants Anubis and Upuai. Osiris was the
enemy of all violence and it was by gentleness alone that he subjected country after country,
winning and disarming their inhabitants by songs and the playing of various musical instruments.
He returned to Egypt only after he had travelled the whole earth and spread civilization
On his return Osiris found his kingdom in perfect order; for Isis had governed wisely in his
absence. But it was not long before he became the victim of a plot organised by his brother Set,
who was jealous of his power. Farther on we shall relate in detail (see Isis and Set) how on the 17th
Athyr, in the twenty-eighth year of the reign, Osiris 'the Good One' fell under the blows of the
conspirators and how his faithful wife found his body and bore it back to Egypt. For the moment
it suffices to say that Isis, thanks to her powers of sorcery and the aid of Thoth, Anubis, and
Horus, succeeded in restoring her husband's dead body to life. Osiris soon answered Set's
accusations and vindicated himself before the tribunal of Gods, presided over by Geb.
Resurrected and from thenceforward secure from the threat of death, Osiris could have
regained his throne and continued to reign over the living. But he preferred to depart from this
earth and retire to the 'Elysian Fields' where he warmly welcomed the souls of the just and reigned
over the dead.
Such is the legend of Osiris. What we can guess of his actual origin suggests that he was a
fetish of a conquering clan which first installed its God at Busiris in Lower Egypt. There he took
the place of the preceding Lord of the City, Andjeti, whose form he borrowed. Perhaps he
borrowed his name also, since later in Abydos in Upper Egypt he became identified with Khenti
Amenti, the wolf-God, and became the great God of the dead, sometimes known as Osiris Khenti
Amenti, 'Lord of the Westerners' - that is, the dead, who dwell in the west where the sun sets.
Here we can only indicate briefly the many cosmic interpretations which the myth of Osiris
has been given.
As a vegetation spirit that dies and is ceaselessly reborn, Osiris represents the corn, the
vine and trees. He is also the Nile which rises and falls each year; the light of the sun which
vanishes in the shadows every evening to reappear more brilliantly at dawn. The struggle
between the two brothers is the war between the desert and the fertile earth, between the drying
wind and vegetation, aridity and fecundity, darkness and light.
It was as God of the dead that Osiris enjoyed his greatest popularity; for he gave his
devotees the hope of an eternally happy life in another world ruled over by a just and good king.
He was worshipped throughout Egypt in company with Isis, his wife, and with Horus, his
posthumous son, who formed with him a trinity. But he was particularly venerated at Abydos
where priests showed his tomb to the innumerable pilgrims who visited it. Happy were the
favoured ones who were buried in the shadows of the august sanctuary or who at least had a stela
erected nearby in their name to assure the benevolence of Osiris in afterlife.
Osiris is represented sometimes standing, sometimes seated on his throne, as a man tightly
swathed in white mummy wrappings. His greenish face is surmounted by the high white mitre
flanked by two ostrich feathers which is called 'AteP, the crown of Upper Egypt. Around his neck
he wears a kind of cravat. His two hands, freed from the winding sheet, are folded across his
breast and hold the whip and the sceptre in the form of a crook, emblems of supreme power.
The names and appellations of Osiris were countless."There are about a hundred in the litanies of
the Book of the Dead.
Like many other Gods he delighted in incarnations. He appeared not only in the form of
various animals-the bull Onuphis, the sacred ram of Mendes, the bird Bennu - but also in the
'Djed, a simple fetish which seems to have been his primitive form in the days when he led his
prehistoric followers into battle. The 'Djed' was originally the trunk of a fir or some other conifer;
but in classical times it was a kind of pillar with four capitals, which certain texts alleged to be the
God's vertebral column, preserved in the famous sanctuary of Busiris.
Space is lacking to describe the festivals which marked critical dates in the Osiris legend.
They were publicly celebrated, and in the course of the Mysteries then presented priests and
priestesses would mime the passion and resurrection of the God.
(A Greek rendering of Aset, Eset) was identified by the Greeks with Demeter, Hera, Selene
and even - because of a late confusion between Isis and Hathor with Aphrodite. In later days the
popularity of Isis became such that she finally absorbed the qualities of all the other Goddesses;
but originally.she seems to have been a modest divinity of the Delta, the protective deity of
Perehbet, north of Busiris, where she always retained a renowned temple.
Very soon she was given as wife to Osiris, the God of the neighboring town. She bore him
a son. Horus, who formed the third member of the trinity. Her popularity grew rapidly with that
of her husband and son. This is her legend as Plutarch tells it to us:
The first daughter of Geb and Nut was born in the swamps of the Delta on the fourth
intercalary day. Osiris, her eldest brother chose her as his consort and she mounted to the throne
with him. She helped him in his great work of civilising Egypt by teaching women to grind corn,
spin flax and weave cloth. She also taught men the art of curing disease and, by instituting
marriage, accustomed them to domestic life.
When her husband departed on his pacific conquest of the world she remained in Egypt as
regent. She governed wisely while awaiting his return.
She was overwhelmed with grief at the news that Osiris had been assassinated by their
brother, the violent Set. She cut off her tore her robes and at once set forth in search of the coffer in
which the good Osiris had been enclosed and which the conspiratorstors had cast into the Nile.
This coffer had been carried out to sea by the waters of the Nile and borne across the waves to the
Phoenician coast where it came to rest at the base of a tamarisk tree. The tree grew with such
astonishing rapidity that the chest was entirely enclosed within its trunk
Now Malcandre, the king of Byblos, gave orders that the tamari should be cut down in
order to serve as a prop for the root of his palace. When this was done the marvellous tree gave off
so cxquisiste a scent that its reputation reached the ears of Isis. who immcdiatiely understood its
significance. Without delay she went to Phoenica. There the queen. Astarte. confided to her the
care of her newborn son. Isis adopted the baby and would have conferred immortality upon it had
its mother not broken the charm by her scream of terror upon seeing the Goddess bathe the baby
in purificatory flames. In order to reassure her, Isis revealed her true name and the reason for her
presence. Then, having been presented with them of the miraculous tree, she drew forth the coffer
of her husband's bathed it in tears, and bore it back in haste to Egypt where, to decieve Set. she hid
it in the swamps of Buto. Set, however, regained possession of his brother's body by chance and in
order to annihilalite forever cut it into fourteen pieces which he scattered far and wide.
Isis, undiscouraged, searched for the precious fragments and found them all except the
phallus which had been greedily dcvoured by a Nile crab, the Oxyrhynchid, forever accursed for
The Goddess reconstituted the body of Osiris, cunningly joined the fragments together.
She then performed, for the first time in history, the rites of embalmment which restored the
murdered God to eternal life. In this she was assisted by her sister Nephthys. tier nephew Anubis,
Osiris' grand vizier Thoth and by Horus, the posthumous son whom she had conceived by union
with her husband's corpse, miraculously re-animated by her charms.
Afterwards she retired to the swamps of Buto to escape the wrath of Set and to bring up
her son Horus until the day when he should be of an age to avenge his father. Thanks to her magic
powers Horus was able to overcome every danger which threatened him.
Isis. indeed, was a potent magician and even the Gods were not immune from her sorcery.
It was told how, when she was still only a simple woman in the service of Ra, she persuaded the
great God to confide to her his secret name. She had taken advantage of the fact that the sun God
was now an old man with shaking head and dribbling mouth. With earth moistened with his
divine spittle she fashioned a venomous snake which bit Ra cruelly. Ra was incapable of curing
himself of a wound whose origin he did not understand, and had recourse to the spells of Isis. But
Isis refused to conjure away the poison until Ra, overcome with pain and hiding himself from the
other Gods, consented to reveal his true name, which he caused to pass directly from his own
bosom into that of Isis.
Isis in thc Osirian myth, represents the rich plains of Egypt, made fruitful by the annual
inundation of the Nile which is Osiris, who is separated from her by Set, the arid desert.
Her cult continued to grow in importance until it ultimately absorbed that of nearly all other
Goddesses. It even crossed the frontiers of Egypt; seamen and merchants in the Oraeco-Roman era
carried her worship as far as the banks of the Rhine - Isis, star of the sea. and patron divinity of
In the Nile valley she kept her worshippers until well into Christian times. It was not until
the middle of the sixth century, in the reign of Justinian, that the temple of Philae her chief
sanctuary in the extreme south of the country was closed to her cult and turned into a church.
Great festivals were celebrated in spring and autumn in honor of Isis. The splendors of the
processions which then took place have been described to us by Apulcius. who was an initiate in
the mysteries of Isis. Thanks to him we can raise a comer of the veil which conceals the secret
ceremonies of initiation.
Isis is normally represented as a woman who bears on her head a throne, the ideogram of
her name. Occasionally, but later, her head-dress is a disk, set between cow's horns, occasionally
flanked with two feathers. Finally we sometimes find her represented with a cow's head set on a
human body. These homs and the cow's head merely prove that Isis was by then identified with
Hathor; but Plutarch, though he says he does not believe it, gives us another explanation. Isis, he
tells us, wished to intervene on behalf of Set who. though her husband's murderer, was also her
own brother. She tried to cheat her son Horus of his just vengeance; but Horus turned in rage
against his mother and cut off her head. Thoth then transformed it by enchantment and gave her
the head of a cow.
This cow is, on the other hand, the animal sacred to Isis who also possessed, as fetishes, the
magic knot 'Tat, called 'The Knot of Isis. and the Sistrum. the emblem of Hathor.
Sculpture and painting often represent her beside Osiris, whom she helps or protects - as
she docs the dead with her winged arms. She may be seen mourning at the foot of sarcophagi or
watching over canopic jars. She also frequently appears in the role of mother, suckling the infant
Horus or joining him in his struggles with Set.
Set (Seth, Sutekh),
Whom the Greeks called Typhon, was the name of Osiris' evil brother who finally became
the incarnation of the spirit of evil, in eternal opposition to the spirit of good.
The son of Geb and Nut, he was, Plutarch tells us, prematurely born on the third
intercalary day. He tore himself violently from his mother's womb. He was rough and wild, his
skin was white and his hair was red - an abomination to the Egyptians, who compared it to the
pelt of an ass.
Set was jealous of Osiris, his elder brother, and secretly aspired to the throne. In order to
seize it he availed himself of the great festivals which were celebrated at Memphis on the occasion
of Osiris' victorious return to his kingdom. Having first assured himself of the presence of
seventy-two accomplices he invited his brother to a banquet during the course of which he gave
orders that a marvellously fashioned coffer should be brought in. This chest, he explained
jokingly-, would belong to whomsoever fitted it exactly. Osiris, falling in with the pleasantry, lay
down in the coffer without suspicion. The conspirators at once rushed forward, closed the lid and
nailed it solidly down. They threw it into the Nile, whence it was carried to the sea and across to
Byblos. We have already seen how Isis brought it back to Egypt and how Set, hunting by
moonlight in the swamps of the Delta, found it again by chance, and how, when he had
recognised his brother's corpse, he cut it up into fourteen pieces which he scattered far and wide.
This time the usurper felt that the possession of the realm was assured, and it worried him little
that his wife Nephthys had left him. Nephthys, indeed, had joined the party of Osiris as most of
the other Gods had done, escaping from the cruelties of the tyrant by taking refuge in the bodies of
various animals. Meanwhile Horus, son of Isis, was growing to maturity in the shelter of the Delta
swamps, and we shall see how he avenged the murder of Osiris, his father, and reclaimed his
heritage from Set.
As we have already said, Set, in Osirian myth, figures as the eternal adversary, a
personification of the arid desert, of drought and darkness in opposition to the fertile earth, lifebringing
water and light. All that is creation and blessing comes from Osiris; all that is destruction
and perversity arises from Set.
In primitive times, however, the evil character of Set was not so accentuated. The old
pyramid texts make him not the brother of Osiris, but the brother of Horus the Elder, and speak of
terrible struggles between them which were terminated by the judgment of the Gods, who
proclaimed Horus the victor and banished Set to the desert.
It was only later, when the Osirian myth had grown and when the two Horuses had
become confused, that Set was made the uncle of Horus and the eternal enemy of Osiris.
Originally Set seems to have been the Lord of Upper Egypt who was overthrown by the
worshippers of the falcon God. The legendary struggles between the brother Gods may thus
reflect historical events.
The bas-reliefs of the Old and the Middle Kingdoms show Set and Horus together leading
prisoners to the king, or else together at the base of the royal throne binding the plants of Upper
and Lower Egypt around the emblem which expresses the idea of union thus making the symbolic
gesture of 'sam-taui, the union of the two countries.
Under the domination of the Hyksos, the new rulers identified Set with their own great
warrior God Sutekh and had a temple built for him in Avaris, their capital. Under the New Empire
Rameses II whose father was named Seti, the 'Setian, did not hesitate to proclaim himself the
'Beloved of Set. The worshippers of Osiris however, were indignant that a cult should be devoted
to the murderer of the 'Good One, and Seti caused the cursed image to be effaced from the
engraved tablets on the walls of his tomb a proclaimed himself no longer the 'Setian' but the
It is only towards the middle of the tenth century, under the king of the twenty-second
dynasty, that the assassin of Osiris really began to undergo the punishment for his crime. His
statues were broken and on the bas-reliefs his features were smashed with hammers. Anyone who
wrote his name was forced to erase it. Finally he was driven from the Egyptian pantheon and
made a God of the unclean. Set, the ancient Lord of Upper Egypt, ended up by becoming a kind of
devil, enemy of all the Gods.
Asses, antelopes and other desert animals were supposed to belong to Set, and also the
hippopotamus, the boar, the crocodile and the scorpion, in whose bodies the God of evil and his
partisans had sought refuge from the blows of the conquering Horus. Legend says that Set, in the
guise of a black pig, had once wounded Horus in the eye. In this form each month he attacked and
devoured the moon where, some said, the soul of Osiris had taken refuge.
Set is represented as having the features of a fantastic beast with a thin, curved snout,
straight, square-cut ears and a stiff forked tongue This creature cannot with certainty be identified
and is commonly called the 'Typhonian animal. Sometimes Set is depicted as a man with the head
of this strange quadruped.
The Greek rendering of Nebthet and is called by Plutarch Aphrodite and Nike.
She is pictured as a woman wearing on her head the two hieroglyphs with which her name, which
signifies 'Mistress of the Palace, was written: i.e., a basket (neb) placed on the sign for a palace
In origin a Goddess of the dead, Nephthys in the Osirian legend beomes the second
daughter of Geb and Nut. Set, her second brother, took her for his wife, but she remained barren.
She wanted a child by her eldest brother Osiris and with this object she made him
drunk and drew him into her arms without his being aware of it.
The friut of this adultery was Anubis.
Nephthys, according to this legend, seems to represent the desert's edge, ordinarily arid
but sometimes fruitful when the Nile floods are especially high. When Set committed fratricide his
wife abandoned him in horror and, joining the party of Osiris' defenders, she helped her sister Isis
to embalm the corpse of the murdered God, alternating with her in the funereal lamentations. A
papyrus still survives for us the text of these lamentations. Just as Nephthys and Isis had
protected the mummy of their brother so the 'twins, as they are often called, also watched over
the bodies of the dead who, by virtue of funeral rites, had become "Orises." On coffin-lids and the
walls of sarcophagi we often see them represented, standing or kneeling, stretching forth their
long, winged arms in a gesture of protection.
Is the Latin rendering of the Greek Horos and the Egyptian Hor. He was a solar God
constantly identified with Apollo and is represented by a falcon or a falconheaded God. Under the
name Hor which in Egyptian sounds like a word meaning 'sky' - the Egyptians referred to the
falcon which they saw soaring high above their heads, and many thought of the sky as a divine
falcon whose two eyes were the sun and the moon. The worshippers of this bird must have been
numerous and powerful; for it was carried as a totem on prehistoric standards and from the
earilies times was considered the pre-eminent divine being. The hieroglyph which represents the
idea of 'God' was a falcon on its perch.
Wherever the followers of the falcon settled, Horus was worshipped, but in the course of
time and in the different sanctuaries which were dedicated to him his role and attributes varied.
Thus we find in the Egyptian pantheon some twenty Horuses, among whom it is important to
distinguish Horus the Elder, 'Haroeris, and other falcons of a solar character such as Hor
Behdetite, Horus of Edfu, from Horus, son of Isis, of the Osirian legend i.e., 'Harsiesis, the infant
avenger of his father.
Is the Greek rendering of Har Wer, which signifies Horus the Great, Horus the Elder.
He was worshipped at Latopolis under the name Horkhenti Irti, 'Horus who rules the two eyes,
and at Pharboethos under the name Hor Merti, 'Horus of the two eyes. He is the God of the sky
itself and his two eyes are the sun and the moon, whose birth, according to Herodotus, was
celebrated on the last day of Epiphi, when these two astral bodies are in conjunction.
In the pyramid texts Haroeris is the son of Ra and brother of Set,and the eternal struggle between
darkness and light is symbolized by the endless battles in which Set tears out the eyes of Horus
while Horus emasculates his implacable enemy. We shall presently see how the tribunal of the
Gods gave judgment in favour of Horus, who from the end of the second dynasty was considered
to be the divine ancestor of the Pharaohs in whose records he is given the title Hor Nubti: 'Horus
the Vanquisher of Set.
'He of Behdet' (or Hor Behdetite) is another name of the great celestial Horus. He was
worshipped at Behdet, a district of ancient Edfu. The Greeks called it Apollinopolis Magna and
recognised Apollo as Lord of the sanctuary.
Behdety is usually represented in the form of a winged solar disk; his followers liked to sculpture
his image above temple gates. He often appears in battle scenes hovering above the Pharaoh like a
great falcon with outspread wings which clutches in its claws the mystic fly-whisk and the ring,
symbolic of eternity.
The bas-reliefs in the temple at Edfu portray him as a falcon-headed God leading into
battle against Set the armies of Ra-Harakhte, the great God of whom we have already spoken
(see Ra) who embodied in a single deity the union of Ra and a special form of Horus worshipped
Harakhtes is the Greek rendering of Harakhte and means 'Horus of the Horizon. He
represents the sun on its daily course between the eastern and western horizon. Early confused
with Ra, he successively usurped all of Ra's roles until Ra, in his turn, assumed all of Horus'
epithets and became pre-eminent throughout Egypt under the name Ra-Harakhte.
Harmakhis is the Greek rendering of Hor-m-akhet which means 'Horus who is on the
Horizon. The name has often been wrongly employed in the form of Ra Harmakhis for Ra-
Harakhte. It is the proper name of the huge sphinx sixty feet high and more than a hundred and
eighty feet long sculptured nearly five thousand years ago in the image of King Khephren in a
rock near the pyramid which it guards. He is a personification of the rising sun and a
symbol (for the comfort of Khephren) of resurrection.
Raised on the edge of the desert, even its colossal size did not in ancient days protect it
against the invading sands. A stela tells us how it appeared in a dream to the future Thuthmosis
IV. Thuthmos was at the time a simple royal prince and not heir to the throne. While hunting he
fell asleep in the shadow of the sphinx and dreamed that it spoke to him, ordering him to remove
the covering sand and promising in return to heap favors upon him. 'Oh my son Thuhmosis,' it
cried, 'it is I, thy father, Harmakhis-Khepri-Atum. The throne will be thine... so that thou shall do
what my heart desires...
Harsiesis is the Greek rendering of Hor-sa-iset, i.e. 'Horus, the son of Isis. We have already
seen how Isis was reputed to have conceived Horus without husband or lover and how the
popularity of mother and son continued to increase, together with that of Osiris himself. This
popularity became such that Harsiesis --originally a minor falcon-God from the neighborhood of
Buto who was called Horus the Younger in order to distinguish him from the great Sky God
Horus the Elder - ended up by eclipsing all the other Horuses whose roles and attributes he
successively took over.
The Osirian legend recounts the posthumous birth of the child which Isis obtained from
Osiris by magical means, re-animating the corpse of the murdered God. It relates how she gave
premature birth to Horus on the floating island of Chemmis, not far from Buto. In early youth he
was frequently called 'the infant Horus' --Harpkhrad - or Harpokrates.
Harpokrates is represented as a baby, nude or adorned only with jewelry. His head is
shaved, except for the sidelock of youth that fell falls over his temple. Often he is seated on his
mother's lap where she offers him her breast. He sucks his thumb like a baby, a gesture which was
misinterpreted by the Greeks, who took it for a symbol of discretion, and won the young God
fame as the divinity of silence
For fear of the machinations of Set, Horus was brought up in selusion. He was extremely
weak at birth and escaped from the numerous dangers which menaced him only by his mother's
power of sorcery. He was bitten by savage beasts, stung by scorpions, burnt, attacked by pains in
the entrails. The memory of these sufferings is preserved for us in the magic formulas which were
employed by sorcerers to cure patients similarly afflicted.
The child Horus grew, and Osiris appeared frequently to him and instructed him in the
use of arms so that he should soon be able to make war on Set, reclaim his inheritance and avenge
his father. This glorious action earned for Horus the epithet Harendotes, which is the Greek for
Har-end-yotef, 'Horus, protector of his father.
The campaigns of the young God against the murderer of Osiris are sculptured on the walls of the
temple at Edfu whose great God Behdety was, in this later epoch, identified with Horus, while Set
was confused with Apep, the eternal enemy of the sun. In a long series of bas-reliefs we see him,
under the name Hartomes, 'Horus the Lancer, piercing his adversaries with his lance while his
followers cut Set's followers - who vainly attempt to seek refuge in the bodies of crocodiles,
hippopotami, antelopes and so on - into pieces.
The war dragged on, and in order to terminate it a tribunal of the Gods summoned the two
adversaries before it. Set pleaded that his nephew was a bastard, only the alleged son of Osiris; but
Horus victoriously established the legitimacy of his birth. The Gods, after condemning the
usurper, restored Horus' heritage and declared him ruler of the two Egypts, by which he then
earned the two further titles: Harsomtus or Heru Sam Tarn ('Horus who unites the two countries')
and Har-pa-neb-taui ('Horus, Lord of the two lands'). He now everywhere re-established the
authority of Osiris and the solar cycle. He erected temples in which he was represented in the
various forms he had assumed during the wars against his irreconcilable enemies, the followers of
Set. He then reigned peacefully over Egypt, of which he always remained the national God,
ancestor of the Pharaohs, who each took the title of 'the Living Horns.
With his father Osiris and his mother Isis, Horus was worshipped throughout Egypt. He
figures in the triads or trinities of numerous sanctuaries, either as chief, as prince consort, or as
divine infant. Thus at Edfu and at Ombos he is the great God with Hathor as his companion; while
Hathor is the uncontested mistress at Dendera, and Horus, in his role of the sovereign's husband,
only a privileged guest.
Until the beginning of the New Kingdom, temple figures represent Horus acting in consort
with Set to crown and purify the king. They show the king into the sanctuary or perform the
symbolic gesture of 'sam-taui. But later Thoth everywhere replaces Set. Elsewhere we see Horus
fighting Set and his partisans, mourning Osiris and performing for him the burial duties. Finally
in the next world Horus ushers the deceased into the presence of 'the Good One' and often
presides over the weighing of his soul.
Hathor is the name of the great Egyptian deity whom the Greeks identified with
As a Sky Goddess, she was originally described as the daughter of Ra and the wife of
Horus. She was, however, sometimes called the mother of Horus; for her name can also signify
'the dwelling of Horus' and it was explained that within her the sun God resided, being enclosed
each evening in her breast, to be bom again each morning.
The texts also say that she was the great celestial cow who created the world and all that it
contains, including the sun.
She is in consequence represented as a cow - her sacred animal -or as a cow-headed
Goddess. Still more often she is given a human head adorned either with horns or simply cow's
ears and heavy tresses framing her face.
Hathor also had a fetish in which she liked to embody herself: the sistrum, a musical
instrument which drove away evil spirits. It was in a spirit of piety that the architect of Dendera
conceived the columns of Hathor's temple as so many colossal sistrums.
Hathor was the protectress of women and was supposed to preside at their toilet. She
enjoyed immense popularity as the Goddess of joy and love. She was proclaimed mistress of
merriment and sovereign of the dance, mistress of music and sovereign of song, of leaping and
jumping and the weaving of garlands. Her temple was the 'home of intoxication and a place of
Hathor nourished the living with her milk. We see her giving her breast to the king whom
she holds in her arms or on her knees and, again, in the form of a cow, suckling the Pharaoh.
Although she was well disposed towards those who were alive she cherished the dead even more
tenderly. Under the name 'Queen of the West' she was the protectress of the Theban necropolis.
Vignettes in the Book of the Dead show the good cow half-emerged fan the Libyan Mountain - the
westernmost limit of human habitation - to welcome the dead on their arrival in the other world.
Those who understood how to beseech her aid by means of the prescribed formulas she would
carry in safety on her back to the after world.
She was also called 'the Lady of the Sycamore, for she would sometimes hide in the foliage
of this tree on the edge of the desert and appear to the dead with the bread and water of welcome.
It was she, they believed, who held the long ladder by which the deserving could climb to heaven.
More and more the Goddess specialised in her role of funerary deity until in the last epoch a dead
person was no longer called 'an Osiris' but 'a Hathor.
Her principal sanctuary was at Dendera where she was worshipped in company with her
husband, Horus of Edfu, who here osded first place to her, and with their son Ihi (Ahi), 'the
Sistrum Player, who is represented as an infant jingling the sistrum at her side. Great festivals
were celebrated in this temple, above all on New Year's Day, which was the anniversary of her
birth. Before dawn the priestesses would bring Hathor's image out on to the terrace to expose it to
the rays of the rising sun. The rejoicing which followed was a pretext for a veritable carnival, and
the day ended in song and intoxication.
Hathor was also worshipped at Edfu with Horus, Lord of the temple, and their son
Harsomtus, as well as at Ombos, where she took part in both trinities at the same time.
Even beyond Egypt, on the coast of Somaliland, she was called 'Mistress of the land of
Punt, from which perhaps she had come in very ancient times. In the Sinai peninsula she was
known as 'Mistress of the land of Mefket; and in Phoenicia, where part of the Osirian legend had
early taken root, as 'the Lady of Byblos.
The Greek rendering of Anpu, was identified with Hermes, Conductor of Souls. It was
Anubis who opened for the dead the roads of the other world. He is represented as a black jackal
with a bushy tail, or as a blackish-skinned man with the head of a jackal or the head of a dog, an
animal sacred to Anubis. For this reason the Greeks called the chief city of his cult Cynopolis.
From the earliest dynasties Anubis presided over embalmments. Funeral prayers, in which
he was always to occupy a preponderant position, were in those days almost exclusively
addressed to him.
In the pyramid texts Anubis is the 'fourth son of Ra' and his daughter is Kebehut, the
Goddess of freshness. But later he was admitted into the family of Osiris and it was said that
Nephthys, left childless by her husband Set, bore him adulterously to Osiris.
Abandoned by his mother at birth, he was, it is related, found by his aunt, Isis. Isis, feeling
no rancour at the thoughtless infidelity of her husband, undertook to bring up the baby. When he
had grown to man's estate Anubis accompanied Osiris on his conquest of the world, and when
'the Good One' was murdered he helped Isis and Nephthys to bury him.
It was on this occasion that Anubis invented funeral rites and bound up the mummy of
Osiris to preserve him from contact with the air and subsequent corruption. He was known,
therefore, as 'Lord of the Mummy Wrappings. From then on he presided over funerals and it is in
this role that we often see him, first proceeding with the mummy's embalming and later receiving
it at the door of the tomb. Anubis also makes sure that offerings brought by the deceased's heirs
actually reach him.
Afterwards we see Anubis take the dead by the hand and, in his capacity of Osiris' usher,
introduce him into the presence of the sovereign judges before whom he then weighs the soul of
This role of God of the dead won Anubis a universal cult and his admission into the circle
of Osiris kept his worship alive until the latest epoch when, because of his identification with
Hermes, Conductor of Souls, he was given the name Hermanubis. In the great procession in
honour of Isis which Apuleius describes, it is the dog-headed God, bearing in his hands the
caduceus and the palms, who marches at the head of the divine images.
Upuaut (or Ophois Wepwawet)
Is a wolf-headed or jackal-headed God who should not be confused with Anubis. Upuaut
signifies 'he who opens the way. In prehistoric representations we see the wolf-God, borne high
upon his standard, guiding the warriors of his tribe into enemy territory. Similarly, during his
principal procession, Upuaut, carried on his shield, leads the cortege at the festivals of Osiris.
Sometimes he is also shown piloting the sun's boat during its nocturnal voyage and, if necessary,
towing it along the edge of the southern and northern sky.
A former warrior-God, he was also worshipped as God of the dead; and notably at
Abydos, before Osiris deposed him, he was worshipped as Lord of the' Necropolis under the
name Khenti Amenti 'he who rules the West.
Upuaut was feudal God of Siut, the Greek Lycopolis, and a later addition to the Osirian
legend. He was an ally of Osiris and, with Anubis, one of his chief officers during the conquest of
the world. As such, they both sometimes appear in later times dressed as soldiers.
To this the form, which the name Djehuti or Zehuti had taken in Graeco-Roman times. He
was identified by the Greeks with Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, and was worshipped
throughout Egypt as a moon-God, patron of science and literature, wisdom and inventions, the
spokesman of the Gods and their keeper of the records.
Djehuti seems merely to mean 'he of Djehut, the name of the old province in Lower Egypt
whose capital, Hermopolis Parva, must have been the cradle of Thoth's cult before he had
established his principal sanctuary at Hermopolis Magna in Upper Egypt, frhoth is ordinarily
represented with the head of an ibis, often surmounted by a crescent moon, or simply as an ibis.
He liked to appear as a bird of this sort, but also at times as a dog-headed ape, which makes us
suspect that the God of historical ages may have been derived from a fusion, in very remote times,
of two lunar divinities, one figured as a bird, the other as an ape.
According to the theologians of Hermopolis, Thoth was tne true universal Demiurge, the
divine ibis who had hatched the world-egg at Hermopolis Magna. They taught that he had
accomplished the work of creation by the sound of his voice alone. When he first awoke in the
primordial 'Nun' he opened his lips, and from the sound that issued forth four Gods materialised
and then four Goddesses. For this reason the future Hermopolis was called Khnum, "City of the
Eight. Without real personality these eight Gods perpetuated the creation of the world by the
word; and the texts tell us that they sang hymns morning and evening to assure the continuity of
the sun's course.
In the Books of the Pyramids, Thoth is sometimes the oldest son of Ra, sometimes the child
of Geb and Nut, the brother of Isis, Set and Nephthys. Normally, however, he does not belong to
the Osirian family and is only the vizier of Osiris and his kingdom's sacred scribe.
He remained faithful to his murdered master and contributed powerfully to his
resurrection, thanks to the trueness of his voice which increased the force of his magic
incantations, and tb the thoroughness of the way in which he purified the dismembered body of
Osiris. Afterwards he helped Isis to defend the child Horus against the perils which beset him. We
are told how on the orders of the Gods he drove out the poison from the child's body when he had
been stung by a scorpion. Later we see him intervene in the merciless struggle between Horus and
Set, curing the former's tumour and the latter's emasculation by spitting on their wounds. Finally,
when the two irreconcilable enemies were summoned to appear before the tribunal of the Gods
sitting in Hermopolis, Thoth earned the title 'He who judges the two companions. He decided
between the two adversaries and condemned Set to return his nephew's heritage.
As he had been the vizier of Osiris, so afterwards was he that of Horus. When Horus
resigned earthly power Thoth succeeded him to the throne. During three thousand two hundred
and twenty-six years Thoth remained the very model of a peaceful ruler.
Endowed with complete knowledge and wisdom, it was Thoth who invented all the arts
and sciences: arithmetic, surveying, geometry, astronomy, soothsaying, magic, medicine, surgery,
music with wind instruments and strings, drawing and, above all, writing, without which
humanity would have run the risk of forgetting his doctrines and of losing the benefit of his
As inventor of hieroglyphs, he was named 'Lord of Holy Words. As first of the magicians
he was often called 'The Elder. His disciples boasted that they had access to the crypt where he
had locked up his books of magic, and they undertook to decipher and learn 'these formulas
which commanded all the forces of nature and subdued the very Gods themselves. It is to this
infinite power which his followers attributed to him that he owes the name Thoth - three times
very, very great - which the Greeks translated as Hermes Trismegistus.
After his long reign on earth Thoth ascended to the skies where he undertook various
First of all he was the moon-God, or at least the God in charge of guarding the moon; for
this astral body had its own individuality and name: Aah-te-Huti. We have already recounted the
legend (see Nut) which tells how Thoth played draughts with the moon and won a seventysecond
part of its light from which he created the five intercalary days. Elsewhere we are told that
the moon is the left eye of Horus, watched over by either an ibis or a dog-headed ape. On the other
hand a passage in the Book of the Dead tells us that Ra ordered Thoth to take his own place in the
sky whilst he himself 'lighted the blessed in the underworld. The moon then appeared and in its
boat began its nocturnal voyages, each month exposed to the attack of monsters who slowly
devoured it but who, happily, were constrained by the moon's faithful champions to disgorge it.
In his quality of lunar divinity Thoth measured the time, which he divided into months (to the
first of which he gave his own name) and into years, which in turn were divided into three
He was the divine regulative force and charged with all calculations and annotations. At
Edfu we see him before the temple trinity presenting the register in which is recorded all that
concerns the geographical division of the country, its dimensions and resources. At Deir el Bahri
we see him proceeding scrupulously with an inventory of treasures brought to the Gods of Egypt
by a naval expedition on its return from the land of Punt.
Nekhebet, the Goddess, in the form of a vulture with outstretched wings, hovers protectively over
the Pharaoh Mem-kau-Heru, of the Fifth Dynasty. Louvre.
Was the keeper of the divine archives and at the same tin the patron of history. He
carefully noted the succession oftk sovereigns and, on the leaves of the sacred tree at Heliopolis,
wrot the name of the future Pharaoh whom the queen had just conceive! after union with the Lord
of the Heavens. On a long palm shot he also inscribed the happy years of reign which Ra had
accords to the king.
He was the herald of the Gods and also often served as their clerl and scribe. 'Ra has
spoken, Thoth has written, we read. And during the awful judgment of the dead before Osiris we
see Thoth, who has weighed the heart and found it not wanting, proclaim in a louf voice the
verdict 'not guilty' which he has just registered onto tablets.
He was invested with the confidence of the Gods and chosen them as arbiter. We have
already seen him awarding judgmentt Horus and condemning Set. Also, at least from the time of
theNei Empire, he everywhere replaces Set in coronation scenes, in sceiu in which libations are
offered to the king, and in the symbol ceremony of 'sam-tauf.
The texts often couple him with Maat, the Goddess of Trull and Justice; but in no temple
do we find them together. On the other hand two spouses of his were known, Seshat and
Nehmaiiit 'she who uproots evil. In Heliopolis they form with him two triad with, in the first
instance, Hornub as divine son, and in the second Nefer Hor.
Plutarch tells us that the chief festival of the ibis-headed gd was celebrated on the
nineteenth of the month of Thoth, a few days after the full moon at the beginning of the year. His
friends would then approached with the words, 'Sweet is the Truth, and tte were presented with
many gifts of sweetmeats, honey, figs and other dainties.
Seshat (or Sesheta)
Was Thoth's principal spouse. In reality she is in her quality of Goddess of writing and
history, merely his double At first she was portrayed with the features of a woman weariij on her
head a star inscribed in a reversed crescent, surmountedb| two long straight plumes, an ideogram
of her name which signing 'the secretary. Later, due probably to a misunderstanding on tin part
of sculptors, the crescent was replaced by two long, turned down horns, from which the Goddess
derived the title Safekh-Aubi i.e. 'she who wears (or, perhaps, raises) the two horns.
She was a stellar divinity who served to measure time; to her---as to Thoth - was ascribed
the invention of letters. She was called 'mistress of the house of books.
She was also called 'mistress of the house of architects' and w represented as the foundress
of temples, helping the king to determine the axis of a new sanctuary by the aid of the stars, and
marking out the four angles of the edifice with stakes.
As Goddess of history and record-keeper for the Gods, we see her, alone or in the company
of her husband, writing the names of the sovereigns on the leaves of the sacred tree at Heliopolis,
or ofregistering on a long palm-leaf the years of reign accorded to the Pharaoh and, on this
occasion, drafting the minutes of jubilee celebrations.
As mistress of the scribes she writes on a tablet the balance due to the king from captured
enemy booty. When the great sovereign of the eighteenth dynasty, Queen Hatshepsut, sends an
expedition to the land of Punt it is Seshat who, on the expedition's returnti Thebes, makes the
inventory of the treasures brought back. 'Tho4 made a note of the quantity, we are told, 'and
Seshat verified to figures.'
PROTECTIVE DIVINITIES OF THE PHARAOHS AND THE KINGDOM
In the course of this study we have already met several Gods wht enjoyed the especial
favour of the kings who considered them to be their divine ancestors. Such were Set, formerly
Lord of Uppei Egypt, but later expelled from the Egyptian pantheon; Horus, of whom every
Pharaoh boasted that he was the living incarnation; and Ra, whose son each Pharaoh from the fifth
dynasty onwards, proclaimed himself to be. We shall now review, in the chronological order in
which their dynastic importance appears most marked, certain other divinities.
Who was identified by the Greeks as Eileithyia, pro-tetress of childbirth, was from the
earliest times the protective Goddess of Upper Egypt. The centre of her cult was at El Kab, former
Nekheb, which the Greeks called Eileithyiaspolis, apitalof the oldest kingdom in the South.
In war and offertory scenes she often appears hovering over the Pharaoh's head in the
form of a vulture, holding in her claws the fly-whisk and the seal.
She is also sometimes portrayed as a divinity with the bald head ifa vulture, or as a woman
wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt either on her head or on a headdress shaped like a
As a mother Goddess Nekhebet suckled the royal children; often we see her suckling the
A transcription of Per Uadjit, 'the dwelling of Uadjit, was ihename which the Greeks gave
to the Delta town and also to the Goddess who was worshipped there. She was the ancient
protectress ofLower Egypt.
The Osirian legend recounts that Buto, sovereign of the Delta, allied herself with Isis and
helped protect her infant child. She gathered up the baby Horus from the floating island of
Chemmis, for which reason she was afterwards identified with Eatona, the Bother of Apollo.
Buto was a snake-Goddess, frequently represented in the form of a cobra, sometimes
winged and sometimes crowned. She also often has the features of a woman wearing, either
directly on her bdor on a head-dress in the form of a vulture, the red crown of the North, of which
she was the official protectress as Nekhebet wasof the white crown of the South.
The vulture-Goddess and the cobra-Goddess, known conjointly as Nebti - 'the two
mistresses' - appear side by side on royal documents. Sometimes they embellish the Pharaoh's
forehead in order to protect him against his enemies, though normally only the Uraeus- appears.
Was the Theban God of war whom the Greeks, because of his solar character, identified
with Apollo. He appears atthe beginning of the Middle Kingdom when he was particularly
venerated by the kings of the eleventh dynasty, many of whom took the name Menthu-hetep,
'Mont is satisfied.
He is usually represented as a personage whose falcon head is surmounted by the solar
disk and two tall straight plumes. At a later period he also appears as a man with a bull's head
embellished with the same attributes. The bull was actually the animal sacred to him. The bull in
which he preferred to become incarnate was the celebrated Buchis which was piously tended at
Hermonthis, the sun's residence in Upper Egypt. Hermonthis was the former capital of this region
and Mont, the sun God, was for many long centuries its lord and master before he was demoted to
second rank by his former vassal, Amon of Thebes, who became king of the Gods.
Having ousted Mont, Amon, whose wife was barren, wished to adopt him as divine son in
the Theban Triad; but the former sovereign of the entire region could not long be happy in such a
subordinate position. Mont therefore chose to dwell apart at Hermonthis, of which he remained
the uncontested master, and at Medamud, in the suburbs of Thebes, where numerous votaries
came to worship him in company with his wife Rat-taui.
A solar God of warlike character, Mont was represented as the God of war under the New
Kingdom. He brandished the khepesh, which was a kind of very curved scimitar, and cut off the
heads of the Pharaoh's enemies. We see him offering the Pharaoh his invincible weapon and
leading his vanquished enemies in chains. Temple bas-reliefs also often show Mont, as sun God of
the South, withAtum, sun God of the North, escorting the king into the sanctuary.
Amon (Amun, Ammon)
Is the name of the great Egyptian deity who was often given the title 'king of the Gods. For
this reason the Greeks identified him with Zeus. He was almost unknown in the time of the Old
Kingdom. His name - which seems to be derived from a root meaning 'hidden' - only appears four
times in the Helio-politah texts of the pyramids. Perhaps he originally belonged to the
cosmological system of Hermopolis which we have already discussed, and was one of those 'eight
Gods' who emerged from the mouth of Thoth. Thebes, which afterwards was to erect such
gigantic temples in his honour, was at that time only a village in the fourth nome (or province) of
Upper Egypt, the capital of which was Hermonthis, city of Mont, who was then Lord of all that
It was with the first king of the twelfth dynasty, whose name, Amenemhat, signifies 'Amon
leads, that Thebes and its God began to take on an importance which was to become considerable
under the great conquerors of the eighteenth dynasty - called Thuthmosis and Amenhotep and
proudly proclaiming themselves to be 'sons of Amon.
Amon by this time had dispossessed Mont and become the great divinity of the whole
country of which Thebes - which was called Nut Amon, the 'city of Amon, or simply Nut, 'the
city' - was henceforth the capital.
Amon normally appears with bronzed human features wearing as a head-dress a kind of
crown which supports two straight tall parallel plumes. Sometimes he is seated majestically on a
throne. Sometimes he stands with a whip raised above his head, in the ithyphallic pose of the God
He is also at times represented with the head ofa ram with curled horns, and at Karnak an
animal of this sort was religiously tended, a living incarnation of the God. They also kept a goose
which was Amon's other sacred animal.
The phallic Amon represented the forces of generation and reproduction. He was often
called 'his mother's husband' and was supposed to initiate and then maintain the continuity of
creative life. He was the God of fertility, and we see the king, in his presence, sowing grain and
cutting the first sheaf.
He was the patron of the most powerful Pharaohs; he acknowledged them as his sons and
gave them victory over their enemies. It was, then, quite natural that the God of Thebes should
become pre-eminently the national God. The faithful proclaimed him 'king of the Gods' under the
name Amon-Ra; for when the theologians had obligingly identified him with Ra, the old sun God,
Amon assumed Ra's position as universal Demiurge and chief of the great Ennead. Pictured in the
royal tombs we see Amon-Ra enthroned in the sun's boat and, during the twelve hours of night,
illuminating the underworld.
Ra, however, had never abdicated his ancient authority, and under the name of Ra-
Harakhte he always enjoyed his own distinct cult. Indeed, under the reign of Amenhotep III, there
was a reaction in Ra's favour, no doubt encouraged by the priests of Heliopolis who were jealous
of Amon's immense fortune and the omnipotence which this parvenu among the Gods claimed.
The texts and bas-reliefs on the walls of the temple of Euxor glorify the divine birth of Amenhotep
as a result of Amon's love for the queen-mother, wife of Thuthmosis IV. But on the death of
Amenhotep the cult of Ra-Harakhte gained new importance. Under the already venerable name
'Aten of the Day' - i.e. The solar disk whence issues the light of day, his visible form and true
name - Ra-Harakhte, it would seem, engaged in a struggle against his rival Amon which was so
successful that Amon was momentarily humbled. In the fourth year of his reign Amenhotep's son
and successor proclaimed a great religious reform and decreed that only the religion of Aten was
Full of zeal for his new God, the reforming Pharaoh began by changing his name
Amenhotep ('Amon is satisfied') to Akhenaton ('The glory of Aten'). He hastened to abandon
Thebes for a new capital city, Akhetaten - the present-day Tell-el-Amarna - which he had built in
Middle Egypt to the glory of the solar disk.
There were no statues of Aten. Bas-reliefs and paintings always represent him in the form
of a great red disk from which fan out long rays tipped with hands which have seized offerings
laid on altars, or which present to the king, the queen and their daughters the hieroglyphs of life
and strength. The Pharaoh was his only priest, and his cult was celebrated in a temple resembling
the ancient solar temples.of the Old Kingdom and called, like the celebrated sanctuary of Ra at
Heliopolis, Het Benben, 'the Palace of the Obelisk. There, at the extremity ofa vast courtyard, rose
the obelisk of the sun. The ceremony consisted of an oblation of fruits and cakes and the recitation
of hymns of great beauty, which were composed by the king himself, in honour of his God. In
them the sun was glorified, as in olden days, as creator of mankind and benefactor of the world,
but without those allusions to early mythological legends of which the ancient hymns to Ra had
been full. The hymns could thus be sung and understood not only by the inhabitants of the Nile
Valley but also by foreigners. All men, they proclaimed, were equally the children of Aten. In this
modified attempt at monotheism we may suspect plans for an Empire-wide religion, especially if
it is remembered that at this time Egyptian domination extended as far as Asia, where the Syrians
worshipped Adonis and the Jews worshipped Adonai.
As long as the king lived there was no official God in Egypt but Aten. The other Gods were
proscribed and bitter war declared against them, especially against Amon and his trinity. Their
temples were despoiled and their riches given to the solar disk. Their statues were broken and the
bas-reliefs on which they appeared were mutilated, while Amon's name was harried from the
most inaccessible places. It was chiselled off and removed from all the royal tablets, even from
those of Amenhotep III, the Pharaoh's own father.
The new religion, it is true, was ephemeral, and on the death of the reformer, or very
shortly afterwards, his own son denied his father's name and restored the cult of Amon. He
changed his heretical name Tut-ankh-Aten ('Living image of Aten') into the orthodox Tut-ankh-
Amon ('Living image of Amon'). Wherever it was found, the old name was replaced by the new.
But there were oversights, and on the magnificent throne of the young Pharaoh, recently removed
from his celebrated tomb, we can still read the two names almost side by side - a silent witness to
the prince's heresy and to its abjuration.
Restored to all his former splendor by Horemheb and the kings of the nineteenth dynasty
who heaped his temples with gifts, Amon, from thenceforth definitely incorporated with Ra, saw
his fortune grow to such a point that it reached three-quarters of that of all the other Gods
combined. An inventory of his wealth made under Rame-ses III tells us that he possessed, among
other riches, 81,322 slaves and 421,362 head of cattle. His high priests, the first prophets of Amon,
were chosen from among the most powerful lords. They soon became hereditary and, after
playing the role of royal comptrollers to the weak sovereigns of the twentieth dynasty, finally
seized the crown itself. Herihor, the priest, succeeded the last of the Rameses to the throne. During
the troubles that ensued Thebes ceased to be the royal seat and political capital of Egypt. It
remained from then on the exclusive property of Amon and became a kind of theocratic state
where the God wielded power, either directly through his oracles or by the mediation, no longer
as in the past of his chief prophet, but of his earthly spouse. This was normally the king's
daughter, 'the God's wife, 'the God's adorer. She was paid the highest honor, ruled the town and
administered the immen! domains of the God, her husband.
Sovereign of Thebes, Amon extended his power beyond tk frontiers of Egypt into Ethiopia
where, through his oracles I Napata and Meroe, he himself chose the kings. He deposed then and
ordered their death, thus exercising a tyrannical dominatioi which only ended in the third century
B.C. when Ergamenes thro off the priests' yoke and had them put to death.
Amon's power over the desert tribes of Libya was equally gra and until the latest epoch
pilgrims crowded in great numbers totb venerable oasis-temple of Amon - or of Jupiter Ammon -
whs the celebrated oracle had, in 332 B.C., saluted Alexander the Gra and called him 'Son of
Amon's most magnificent sanctuaries were, however, at Thete on the right bank of the
Nile, at Luxor and at Karnak, when ruins to-day still fill us with admiration, and where he was m
shipped in company with Mut, his wife, and their son Khons.Oi the bas-reliefs which cover the
walls and columns we see thekii| of the Gods on his throne, where he receives the perpetual
adoratia of the Pharaoh, whom at times he embraces and whom he infus with the magic fluid 'sa.
Elsewhere he gives the breath of lifeli him and grants him long years of reign. He hands him the
khepd of battle and, trampling the vanquished underfoot, delivers ow enemy towns. Finally
Amon is shown holding on his knees tin queen with whom he will unite in order to produce the
next Pharaol his son.
Being Amon-Ra's wife, was identified by the Greeks with Hera. She is a vague and illdefined
deity whose name signified'Mother. She is represented as a woman wearing a headdressi
the form of a vulture, an ideogram of her name. Again she wears a heavy wig surmounted
by the pschent - the double crown to whid as wife of the king of the Gods, she had a right.
She grew in stature along with her spouse and when he, under the name Amon-Ra, had
become the great God of the heavens she al» became a solar deity. She was sometimes identified
with Bast whose cat-form she assumed; and with Sekhmet, from whom she borrowed the head of
A text tells us that as a Sky Goddess she remained - in the form of a cow - behind Amon
when he emerged from the waves and broke from the egg at Hermopolis.'He mounted on her back,
seized her horns, and dismounted where it pleased him so to do.i
Wen she had long been childless Mut first adopted Mont, then Khons. It is with Khons as
child that she entered the celebrated Theban triad of which Amon was the chief.
Whose name means 'the Navigator' or 'He who crosses the sky in a boat, seems originally
to have been a moon-God, little known beyond the region of Thebes. It is a puzzle why the
Greeks sometimes identified him with Hercules.
Khons is ordinarily represented in the form of a personage swathed like Ptah, whose
composite sceptre he holds before him. His head is completely shaven except for one temple
which is adorned by the heavy tress of a royal child. He wears a skullcap mounted by a disk in a
crescent moon. At first rather obscure, Khons rose to the ranks of the great Gods when he was
adopted by Amon and Mut and replaced Mont as their son in the Theban triad.
It is only under the New Kingdom, however, that he seems to have begun to enjoy great
popularity as an exorcist and healer. The possessed and the sick from all over Egypt and even
from abroad had recourse to him. In the case of those from abroad Khons delegated his powers to
a statue in which he incarnated a double of himself, commanding it to go forth and cure his
suppliants. Thus we see the great Khons Neferhotep of Karnak, whose aid the Syrian prince of
Bakhtan had implored on behalf of his daughter, delegate a second Khons in Syria who was
named 'He who executes the designs and who expels the rebels. Space is lacking to recount
in detail how the divine substitute accomplished his mission and drove from the princess's body
the demon which had tormented her; how at the end of three years and nine months he appeared
in a dream to her father in the form of a golden falcon who flew swiftly towards Egypt; and how
the grateful prince then hastened to take back the divine statue with the greatest ceremony
together with costly gifts which were deposited in the temple of Karnak at the feet of the great
Khons was much venerated at Thebes and also worshipped at Ombos where he formed the
third person in the triad of Sebek under the name Khons Hor, who was represented as a man with
a falcon's head surmounted with a disk in a crescent moon.
In conclusion it may be remarked that one of the months of the year was named Pakhons,
which means'the month of Khons.'
Sebek (in Greek, Suchos)
Is the name of a crocodile divinity who figured among the patrons of the kings of the
thirteenth dynasty, many of whom were called Sebekhotep, 'Sebek is satisfied.'
The God was represented either as a man with the head of a crocodile or simply as a
crocodile. In a lake attached to his chief sanctuary an actual crocodile was kept. It was called
Petesuchos, 'He who belongs to Suchos' (or to Sebek), and it was said that the God was incarnate
We know little of the origins of Sebek. A pyramid text calls him the son of Neith. But, as
Maspero has pointed out, it is easy to conceive that the presence nearby of a swamp or a rockencumbered
rapid could have suggested to the inhabitants of the Fayyum of Ombos that the
crocodile was the supreme God who must be appeased by sacrifice and prayers. To his
worshippers no doubt Sebek was none other than the Demiurge who, on the day of creation,
issued from the dark waters where until then he had reposed, in order to arrange the world - as
the crocodile emerges from the river to deposit her eggs on the bank. Possibly because the name
Sebek sounds in Egyptian a little like Geb he was sometimes given Geb's titles.
Sebek was especially venerated in the Fayyum. The whole province was under his
protection and his principal sanctuary was in the former Shedet, the Crocodilopolis of the Greeks.
We shall have occasion to speak further of this when we study the animals sacred to the
Sebek was the object of a cult in Upper Egypt also. One can still see to-day at Kom Ombo -
the former Ombos - ruins of the temple where Sebek's triad was worshipped, as was a second
triad of which Horus was the chief. Perhaps here Sebek really replaced the former Lord, Set the
Ombite, whom the pious worshippers of Horus would not tolerate. What is certain is that Sebek
often shared Set's evil reputation. He was reproached with having aided the murderer of Osiris
when Set, to escape punishment for his crime, took refuge in the body of a crocodile. That was
why these animals, worshipped in certain provinces, were hunted down and destroyed in others.
Ptah of Memphis
In his aspect ot protector of artisans and artists, was identified by the Greeks with
Hephaestus. He is normally represented as a mummified figure, often raised on a pedestal inside
thenaos of a temple, his skull enclosed in a tight head-band and his body swathed in mummywrappings.
Only his hands are free and hold a composite sceptre uniting the emblems of life, of
stability and of omnipotence.
He was worshipped from the earliest times at Memphis where, south of the ancient 'White
Wall' of Menes, he possessed the celebrated temple of Ptah-Beyond-the-Walls. Ptah must always
have been of first importance as sovereign God of the old capital of the North, the city where the
Pharaohs were crowned. But little is known of his role before the advent of the nineteenth
dynasty, whose great kings, Seti I and Rameses II, held him in particular devotion, while one
soveregin of the same dynasty even bore the name Siptah, which signified 'Son of Ptah.
It was, however, after the extinction of the last of the Rameses, when the political role of
the Delta had become predominant, that the God of Memphis attained his full glory. Of all the
Gods of Egypt he was then third in importance and wealth, yielding only to Amon and Ra; and
not even to them in the estimation of hisom priest, who proudly proclaimed him to be the
Universal Demiurge who had with his own hands fashioned the world.
Ptah was the patron of artisans and artists and the inventor of the arts. He was at the same
time designer, smelter of metal and builder, His high priest at Memphis bore a title analogous to
the 'Master Builder' of our medieval cathedrals. It was he who during tht construction of a temple
directed architects and masons.
Today there remain only shapeless ruins of the celebrated temple, of Memphis where
priests showed Herodotus the ex-votos commemorating the great miracles performed by Ptah.
Among others was the occasion on which he had saved Pelusium from Sennacherib's attacking
Assyrians by raising an army of rats, who forced the assailants to retreat by gnawing their
bowstrings, quivers, and the leather thongs of their shields.
In this temple Ptah was worshipped in company with his consort Imhotep, a human hero
deified. Near the sanctuary was piously tended the celebrated bull Apis, a living incarnation of the
God. We shall speak of Apis in the final section of this study.
Although Ptah was apt to be called 'fair of face' he is sometimes depicted as a deformed
dwarf with twisted legs, hands on hips and a huge head, shaved except for the childish lock. Thus
represented, Ptah plays the role of protector against noxious animals and against all kinds of evils.
He was early identified with the very ancient and obscure earth-God Tenen and also with Seker,
of whom we shall write briefly below. He was frequently invoked under the names Ptah Tenen,
Ptah Seker and even Ptah Seker Osiris.
Seker (the Greek rendering is Sucharis)
Was doubtless a vegetation God before he became the God of the dead in the Memphis
necropolis. There, in the form of a greenish hawk-headed mummy, he was worshipped in a
sanctuary called Ro Stau ('the doors of the corridors'), which communicated directly with the
underworld. He was early identified with Osiris and brought to Osiris all his own local
worshippers. It was under the name Seker Osiris that the God of the dead was usually
worshipped in Memphis. In the end the great funerary divinity became Ptah Seker Osiris.
Sekhmet (rendered in Greek as Sakhmis)
Is the name of the terrible Goddess of war and battle who is usually represented as a
lioness or a woman with the head of a lioness.
Her name, which means 'the Powerful, is simply a title of Hathor which was given to
Hathor on the occasion when in the form of a lioness she hurled herself on the men who had
rebelled against Ra. As we have already seen she attacked them with such fury that the sun God,
fearing the extermination of the human race, begged her to arrest the carnage.'By thy life, she
answered him,'when I slay men my heart rejoices, and she refused to spare her victims. For this
reason she was later given the name Sekhmet and represented in the form of a savage lioness. In
order to save what remained of the human race Ra had recourse to a stratagem. He spread across
the bloody battlefield seven thousand jugs containing a magic potion composed of beer and
pomegranate juice. Sekhmet, who was thirsty, mistook this red liquid for human blood and drank
it so avidly that she became too drunk to continue the slaughter. The human race was saved; but
to appease the Goddess, Ra decreed that 'on that day there should be brewed in her honour as
many jugs of the philtre as there were priestesses of the sun. This was henceforth done annually
on the feast day of Hathor. The great massacre had taken place on the twelfth day of the first
month of winter; thus the calendar of lucky and unlucky days carefully notes: 'Hostile, hostile,
hostile is the 12th Tybi. Avoid seeing a mouse on this day; for it is the day when Ra gave the order
The Goddess was called 'the beloved of Ptah; for, though originally a divinity of Latopolis,
she joined the Memphis Triad as Ptah's wife, bearing him a son, Nefertum.
Attached to her cult were bone-setters who, with her intercession, cured fractures.
Which the Greeks rendered as Iphtimis, is the name of the original divine son of the
Memphis Triad. The Greeks identified him with Prometheus, perhaps because his father was said
to be Ptah Hephaestus, the discoverer of fire.
He is habitually represented as a man armed with the curved sabre called the khepesh. His
head is surmounted by an open lotus flower from which springs a horned stalk, and he often
appears standing on a crouched lion. Sometimes he has the head of this lion, which he doubtless
owes to his mother, the lion-Goddess Sekhmet.
His name, which signifies'Atum the Younger, clearly indicates that he was at first an
incarnation of Atum of Heliopolis, a rejuvenated Atum who at dawn sprang from the divine lotus,
asylum of the sun during the night. A native of Lower Egypt, he was considered as the son of
Ptah, and his mother became that God's spouse. He therefore occupied - before Imhotep - the third
place in the oldest Memphis Triad.
Was identified by the Greeks with Artemis, probably by confusion with the lioness-headed
Goddess Tefnut. She was local Goddess of Bubastis, capital of the eighteenth nome or prorace
of Lower Egypt. Bubastis is a transcription of Per Bast, i.e. the House of Bast. She became the
great national divinity ihen, about 950 B.C., with Sheshonk and the Libyan Pharaohs tfthe twentysecond
dynasty, Bubastis became the capital of the kingdom.
Though in origin a lioness-Goddess, personifying the fertilising t nnnth of the sun, her
sacred animal later became the cat, and she , (represented as a cat-headed woman holding in her
right hand either a sistrum or an aegis, composed of a semi-circular breastplate amounted with the
head of a lioness. In her left hand she carries tbasket.
She was related to the sun God whom some called her father and others her brotherspouse;
and she became - like Sekhmet, with rtom she is frequently confused in spite of their very
dissimilar characters - the wife of Ptah of Memphis and with him formed a itriad in which
Nefertum was the third person.
Although, as patron of the kings of Bubastis, Bast had already tome one of the great
divinities of Egypt, it was in the fourth ctntury B.C. that she achieved her greatest popularity. She
existed ilso in secondary forms as Pekhet, the cat or lion-headed Goddess ofSpeos Artemidos, to
the east of Beni Hasan.
LikeHathor she was a Goddess of pleasure and loved music and the dance. She would beat
time with the sistrum, often decorated with the figure of a cat, which she grasped in her hand. In
her benevolence she also protected men against contagious disease and evil spirits.
Great and joyful festivals were periodically celebrated in her temple at Bubastis. Herodotus
tells us that it was one of the most elegant in Egypt and recounts how the devout came in
hundreds ofthousands from all over the country for the huge annual fair.The journey took place
by barges to the sound of flutes and castanets. Buffoonery and jokes were bandied between the
pilgrims and the women on the banks of the river who watched the barges as they passed, and
everything was a pretext for pleasantry and masquerade. On the appointed day a splendid
procession wound through the town and festivities followed during which, it seems, more wine
was drunk than during all the rest of the year.
To please the cat-Goddess her devotees consecrated statues of this animal in great
numbers, and in the shadow of her sanctuaries it was a pious custom to bury the carefully
mummified bodies of cats who during their lifetime had been venerated as animals sacred to Bast.
(See Sacred Animals.)
Whom the Greeks identified with their Pallas Athene, is the name of a Delta divinity. She
was protectress of Sais, which became capital of Egypt towards the middle of the seventh century
B.C. when Psammetichus I, founder of the twenty-sixth dynasty, mounted the throne, thus
assuring the wealth and importance of his local Goddess.
She was, in fact, an extremely ancient divinity; for her fetish --two crossed arrows on an
animal skin -- was carried on the standard of a prehistoric clan, and two queens of the first
dynasty derived their names from hers.
Her epithet Tehenut, 'the Libyan, suggests that she probably originated in the west. She
always remained important in Sais after having been, in very early times perhaps, considered to
be the national divinity of Lower Egypt whose red crown she habitually wears. The crown was
called 'Net, which sounds like her own name.
In the beginning she was worshipped in the form of a fetish composed of two crossed
arrows on a shield or the mottled skin of an animal. Later she was represented with the features of
a woman wearing the crown of the North and holding in her hand a bow and arrows. Still later
her attribute became a weaver's shuttle, an ideogram of her name, which she sometimes wears on
her head as a distinguishing emblem.
Neith, indeed, appears in a double role: as a warrior-Goddess and as a woman skilled in
the domestic arts. This is why she was identified with Athene, who also played this double role.
When, with the advent of the Sais dynasty, her preponderance was established, she played a part
in many cosmogonic myths. She was made a sky-Goddess like Nut and Hathor, and she was
proclaimed to be mother of the Gods in general and of Ra in particular 'whom she bore before
She was the great weaver who wove the world with her shuttle as a woman weaves cloth.
Under the name Mehueret she was the Celestial Cow who gave birth to the sky when nothing
existed. She was introduced into the Osirian cult and confounded with Isis; she became protectress
of the dead and we sometimes see her offering them the bread and water on their arrival in the
Just as Isis and Nephthys are frequently found together in pictures and texts, so Neith
often appears with Selket, either as guardian of the mummy and viscera of the dead, or as
protectress of marriage.
Today nothing remains of her celebrated temple at Sais where, Plutarch tells us, could be
read the following inscription: 'I am all that has been, that is, and that will be. No mortal has yet
been able to lift the veil which covers me.'
To this sanctuary was annexed a school of medicine, 'The House of Life, directed by the
priests. Later, under the Persians, Darius' Egyptian doctor boasted that he had reorganized this
medical school under royal protection.
DIVINITIES OF RIVER AND DESERT
Which was rendered in Greek as Khnoumis, was a God of the region of the Cataracts. He is
portrayed as a ram-headed man with long wavy horns, unlike the curved horns of the ram-headed
He was a God of fecundity and creation and was originally worshipped under the form of
a ram or a he goat. Like all Gods of this sort he doubtless, according to Maspero, symbolized the
Nile which comes from the heavens to fertilise the earth and make it fruitful. His chief sanctuary
was near the Cataracts, not far from the spot where the earliest Egyptians placed the source of
their great river, on that Isle of Elephantine of which Khnum was proclaimed sovereign lord.
From his temple, where he received offerings in company with his two wives, Sati and
Anukis - who were, as far as we know, childless - Khnum watched over the sources of the Nile.
Khnum means 'the Moulder' and it was taught that he had formerly fashioned the world-egg on
his potter's wheel. At Philae, moreover, he was called 'the Potter who shaped men and modelled
the Gods. We see him moulding the limbs of Osiris; for it was he, they said, who'shaped all flesh,
the procreator who engendered Gods and men.
In this quality he presided over the formation of children in their mothers' wombs. Temple
bas-reliefs show him fashioning the body of the young Pharaoh on his sculptor's turntable. At
Armant this young Pharaoh is none other than the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, here
identified with the divine child Harsomtos.
The celebrity of Khnum soon crossed the nearby frontier and penetrated Nubia, whose
God Doudoun was also a ram, or a ram-headed God. This facilitated the identification of the two
Gods and attracted new and numerous worshippers to the Isle of Elephantine.
Harsaphes, the Greek rendering of Hershef ('He who is on his lake'), was the name of
another ram-headed God identified by the Greeks with Hercules. His principal sanctuary was at
Heracleopolis Magna in the Fayyum. Probably a Nile God, like all ram-headed Gods according to
Maspero, Harsaphes was from the earliest times the object of great veneration; for already under
the first dynasty we see King Ousaphais consecrating anaos to him.
Sati was one of Khnum's two wives and as such a guardian Goddess of the Cataracts.
According to Maspero her name signifies'She who runs like an arrow. She is the Archer who lets fly
the river's current with the force and rapidity of an arrow. She is represented as a woman wearing
the white crown of the South, flanked by two long horns. Like Neith she often holds arrows and a
bow in her hands. She was worshipped in the extreme south of Egypt, where her favourite abode
was on the island of Seheil. She gave her name to the first nome of Upper Egypt which was called
Ta Setet, the'Land of Sati. Its capital was Abu, 'City of the Elephant, the Elephantine of the Greeks,
where Sati took her place in the temple of Khnum in company with Anuket.
Anuket, the Greek for which was Anukis, was Khnum's second wife. She is represented as
a woman wearing a tall plumed crown. Her name seems to mean 'the Clasper' - she who clasps the
river bank and presses the Nile between the rocks of Philae and Syene. She was worshipped at
Elephantine with Khnum and Sati as a regional Goddess of the Cataracts. She liked to reside on
the island of Seheil, whieh was consecrated to her.
Min whom the Greeks identified with Pan, was a very ancient God whose totem, a
thunderbolt apparently, appeared at the top of old prehistoric standards. Wearing a crown
surmounted by two tall straight plumes which seem to have been borrowed from Arnon, Min is
always represented standing with a flail raised in his right hand behind his head and always with
This latter trait seems to indicate that Min was originally considered by his priests to be the
creator of the world. He is often identified with Horus; and we may wonder if his name was not in
earlier days simply a special name for the sun God.
Be this as it may, Min was in the classical epoch chiefly worshipped as God of the roads
and protector of travellers in the desert. The principal centre of his cult was Coptos, 'the town of
caravancers, a point of departure for commercial expeditions. Their leaders, before risking
themselves in the deserts, never failed to invoke the great local God Min, God of the Eastern
desert and 'Lord of Foreign Lands.
He was worshipped also as a God of fertility and vegetation and protector of crops. On
temple walls we see scenes from the ceremonies which were celebrated in his honour as harvest-
God during the king's enthronement. We see the Pharaoh offering him the first sheaf which he has
just eut and we see the homage which is rendered to the white bull, sacred to Min.
As well as in Coptos he was worshipped in Akhmin, the former Chemmis, known as
Panopolis to the Greeks, who identified Min with Pan. There in his honour gymnastic games were
celebrated, and it is perhaps for this reason that the Greek historian Herodotus praised the
inhabitants of Panopolis for being the only Egyptians who liked Greek customs.
Hapi was the name of the deified Nile. He is given the figure of a man, vigorous but fat,
with breasts developed like those of a woman, though less firm and hanging heavily on his chest.
He is dressed like the boatmen and fishermen, with a narrow belt which sustains his massive
belly. On his head he wears a crown made of aquatic plants - of lotus if he is the Nile of Upper
Egypt, of papyrus if he represents the river in Lower Egypt.
Hapi, in fact, played the two parts of Southern Nile and Northern Nile. There were two
corresponding Goddesses who personified the river banks and they are sometimes seen standing
with outstretched arms, as though begging for the water which will render them fertile.
The Egyptians thought of the Nile as flowing from Nun, the primordial ocean which waters the
visible as well as the invisible world. It was also said that Hapi resided near the First Cataract, on
the Isle of Bigeh, in a cavern where he poured water to heaven and earth from his urns. Towards
the middle of June the Nile would rise and the devotees of Osiris affirmed that the inundation - on
the height of which depended the year's prosperity - was caused by Isis weeping for her husband,
treacherously slain by his wicked brother Set. The suitable height of the inundation was, in
Graeco-Roman times, fixed at sixteen cubits - as the sixteen infants which decorate the famous
statue of the Nile in the Vatican indicate. In order that the river should attain this height the
Egyptians in June would make offerings to Hapi, imploring him with fervour and singing hymns,
often of great poetic quality.
Apart from this, Hapi scarcely played a part in religion as such, and he was not connected
with any theological system.
In temples he occupied a secondary role, and appears as a servant offering his river
products to the great Gods. On the foundations of buildings we often find long processions of
alternate Gods and Goddesses who resemble Hapi and are known as 'Niles. They represent the
sub-divisions of the two Egypts bringing, in tribute to the Lord of the sanctuary, the products of
all the provinces.
DIVINITIES OF BIRTH AND DEATH
Taueret (Apet, Opet) 'the Great'
Taueret (Apet, Opet) 'the Great' was a popular Goddess of childbirth and symbolized
maternity and suckling.
She is represented as a female hippopotamus with pendant mammae, standing upright on
her back legs and holding the hieroglyphic sign of protection, 'sa, a plait of rolled papyrus. She
was especial worshipped in Thebes where, under the New Kingdom, sheenjojti great popularity
among people of the middle class, who often ga«. her name to their children and decorated their
houses with ft images.
As well as her role of protectress Taueret sometimes fulfilled th of an avenging deity: then
she would appear as a Goddess with til body of a hippopotamus but the head of a lioness who
brandishd a dagger in a menacing manner.
Heket was a frog-Goddess or a frog-headed Goddess who, it seem symbolized the
embryonic state when the dead grain decompose! and began to germinate.
A primitive Goddess, it was taught at Abydos that she came will Shu from the mouth of Ra
himself and that she and Shu were tin ancestors of the Gods. She was, they also said, one of the
midwivs who assisted every morning at the birth of the sun. In this aspffl she figures, like
Nekhebet and others whom we shall mention among the patrons of childbirth. ,
Meskhent is sometimes represented as a woman wearing on ta head two long palm shoots, curved
at their extremities. She was a Goddess of childbirth and personified the two bricks on which,j the
moment of delivery, Egyptian mothers crouched. Sometimes we see Meskhent in the form of one
of these bricks, terminated in a human head.
She appeared beside the expectant mother at the precise moment the baby was born and
she was said to go from house to hoiia bringing relief to women in labor. Often, too, she played
the roll of fairy Godmother and pronounced sentence on the newly born and predicted its future.
The old story in which the birth of the three first kings of the fifth dynasty is described
permits us to determine the roles which the various divinities played during childbirth. When, we
read, Reddedet approached the term of her confinement, Ra, the true father of the child she bore in
her womb, ordered Isis, Nephthys, Heketani Meskhent to go to her bedside. The four Goddesses,
disguised as dancers and accompanied by Khnum who carried their luggage, set forth. When the
moment had come Isis placed herself in from of Reddedet, Nephthys, behind her, while Heket
helped her. fa received the child. The Goddesses then washed it and placed itoi a bed of bricks.
Finally Meskhent approached the newborn bab; and said: 'It is a king who will rule over all the
land.' Khnumtho put health and strength into its body.
The Hathors were kinds of fairy Godmothers who sometimes ap peared at the birth of the
young Egyptian to prophesy his destinj, much as we have seen Meskhent do. There were seven or
even nine of them and we see them, in the form of young women, at the confinement of Ahmes at
Deir el Bahri, of Mutemuia at Luxor andof Cleopatra at Armant. Their predictions were sometimes
favorable sometimes not; but no one escaped the fate they foretold.
Shai was 'Destiny, and was sometimes made a Goddess: Snail Ht was born at the same
moment as the individual, grew up with hi and shadowed him until his death. Sha'i's decrees
were inescapable After death, when the soul was weighed in the presence of Osiris Shai could be
seen in the form of a God without special attributed attending the trial in order - Maspero says -
'to render exact accouil before the infernal jury of the deceased's virtues and crimes, ori\ order to
prepare him for the conditions of a new life.
Renenet was the Goddess who presided over the baby's sucklinf She nourished him herself
and also gave him his name - and, ii consequence, his personality and fortune. At his death we see
ha with Sha'i when his soul is weighed and judged. She is variouslj represented: as a woman
without attributes, as a snake-headd woman, as a woman with the head of a lioness, or as a
uraeus. dressti and with two long plumes on her head. As a nursing Goddess sk symbolized
nourishment in general and sometimes appears asi harvest Goddess with the title. 'Lady of the
Double Granary. Ski gives her name to the month of Pharmuti, 'the month of Renenet' which was,
in later epochs, the eighth month of the Egyptiai calendar. }
Renpet was the Goddess of the year, the Goddess of springtide anl of youth. As a deity of
time's duration she was called 'Mistres of Eternity. She is represented as wearing above her head
a long palm-shoot, curved at the end an ideogram of her name.
Bes often appeared at birth, but chiefly he was a marriage-God ' mdpresided over the toilet
Bes was a popular God who perhaps originated in the land of Punt of which he was
sometimes called the Lord. He appears in ikformofarobust dwarf of bestial aspect. His head is big,
his eyes huge, his cheeks prominent. His chin is hairy and an enormous tongue hangs from his
wide-open mouth. For headdress he has a bunch of ostrich feathers; he wears a leopard skin
whose tail falls Wundhim and is visible between his bandy legs. In bas-reliefs and paintings he is
frequently represented full-face, contrary to the old Egptian usage of drawing only in profile. He
is normally immobile, hands on hips; though occasionally he skips cheerfully but clumsily and
plays the harp or tambourine or, again, brandishes a broad diggerwith a terrible and menacing air.
At once jovial and belligerent, fond of dancing and lighting. Be was the buffoon of the
Gods. They delighted in his grotesque shape and contortions, just as the Memphite Pharaohs of
the Old Kingdom enjoyed the antics of their pygmies.
At first Bes was relegated to the lowest rank among the host of genii venerated by the
common people, but his popularity grew; ud under the New Kingdom the middle classes liked to
place his Satuein their houses and name their children after him.
From this epoch we often see Bes represented in themammisi of temples - that is to say, in
the birth houses where divine accouchements took place. He thus presided over child caring and
at Deir el Bahri he appears with Taueret and other tutelary genii beside the queen's bed as a
protector of expectant mothers.
He also presided over the toilet and adornment of women, who were fond of having his
image carved on the handles of their mirrors, rouge boxes and scent bottles. Bedheads are also
frequently found ornamented with various representations of Bes; for he was the guardian of
sleep who chased away evil spirits and sent the sleeper sweet dreams.
He was moreover an excellent protector not only against evil spirits but against dangerous
beasts: lions, snakes, scorpions, crocodiles. Against their bite or sting the whole family could be
preserved by taking care to place in the house a little stela or pillar, covered with magic formulas,
on which was sculpted Bes' menacing mask above a figure of the infant Horus. standing on two
At the end of paganism Bes was even supposed to be the protector of the dead, and for this
reason became as popular as Osiris.
After the triumph of Christianity Bes did not immediately vanish from the memory of
man; for we are told of a wicked demon named Bes whom the holy Moses had to exorcise because
he was terrorising the neighbourhood. To this day, it would seem, the monumental southern gate
of Karpak serves as a dwelling-place for a knock-kneed dwarf whose gross head is embellished
with a formidable beard. Woe to the stranger who. coming across him in the dusk of evening,
laughs at his grotesque figure! I or the monster will leap at his throat and strangle him. He is the
Bes of Ancient Egypt who, after long centuries, is not yet resigned to abandoning altogether the
scenes which once witnessed his greatness.
Selket (Selquet) is the name of the old scorpion-Goddess who was depicted as a woman
wearing on her head a scorpion, the animal sacred to her. She was also at times a scorpion with a
woman's head. According to certain texts she was a daughter of Ra. She often played the role of
guardian of conjugal union. At Deir el Bahri she appears with Ncith supporting the hieroglyph of
the sky, above which Amon is united with the queen-mother. The two Goddesses protect the
couple from all annoyance.
Selket played an especial part in the ceremony of embalming. She protected the entrails
and, as we shall later explain, guarded the canopic vase which contained the intestines.
As we have already noticed, Selket is often found in company will I Neith, as Isis is with
Nephthys. Like the other three Goddesses, Selket protected the dead, and like them we see her
extending winged arms across the inner walls of sarcophagi.
The Four Sons of Horus
The four sons of Horus, who were members of the Third Ennead, were supposed to have
been born to Isis; but it was also said that Sebek, on Ra's orders, caught them in a net and took
them from the water in a lotus flower. It is on a lotus flower that they stand before the throne of
Osiris during the judgment of the dead.
They were appointed by their father, Horus, to guard the four cardinal points. He also
charged them to watch over the heart and entrails of Osiris and to preserve Osiris from hunger
From then on they became the official protectors of viscera. Since the time of the Old
Kingdom it had been usual to remove tin viscera from the corpse, to separate them and preserve
them in cases or jugs called - wrongly -'canopic' jars. Each of these was confided to the care not
only of one of the four genii but also of a Goddess.
Thus the human-headed Imsety watched with Isis over the vase containing the liver. The
dog-headed Hapi guarded the lungs with Nephthys. The jackal-headed Duamutef with Neith
protected the stomach. And the hawk-headed Qebhsnuf with Selket had chargeof the intestines.
Ament, whose name is a simple epithet meaning 'the Westerner, was represented as a
Goddess wearing an ostrich feather on her head or [untunes an ostrich plume and a hawk.
His feather, the normal ornament of Libyans, who wore it fixed in their hair, was also the
sign for the word 'Western' and was naturally suitable to Ament, who was originally the Goddess
of the Libyan province to the west of Lower Egypt.
Later 'the West' came to mean the Land of the Dead, and the less of the West became the
Goddess of the dwelling-place Nthedead.
At the gates of the World, at the entrance of the desert, one often sees the dead being
welcomed by a Goddess who half-emerges the foliage of the tree she has chosen to live in to offer
him bread and water. If he drinks and eats he becomes the 'friend of the Gods'and follows after
them, and can never return. The deity who thus welcomes the dead is often Ament, though she
may frequently ' It Nut, Hathor, Neith or Maat, who take their turn in replacing the Goddess of
Mertseger (Merseger), whose name signifies 'the Friend of Silence' or'the Beloved of Him
who makes Silence' (i.e. Osiris), was the . name of a snake-Goddess of the Theban necropolis. More
accurately she pertained to one part of the funerary mountain at Thebes -the peak, shaped like a
pyramid, which dominated the mountain chain and earned Mertseger the epithet Ta-dehnet, 'the
peak. She is represented as a human-headed snake or even as a snake ' with three heads: namely,
a human head surmounted by a disk flanked by two feathers between two others: a snake's head
similarly embellished and a vulture's head. Although Mertseger was beneovent she could also
punish. We have the confession of Neferabu, a modest employee at the necropolis, who admitted
having sinned and been justly stricken with illness. Afterwards he proclaims that he has been
cured by 'the Peak of the West, having first repented and ardently besought her forgiveness.
The Judges of the Dead and the Weighing of the Soul
When, thanks to the talismans placed on his mummy and especially to the passwords
written on the indispensable Book of the Dead with which be was furnished, the deceased had
safely crossed the terrifying stretch of country between the land of the living and the kingdom of
the dead, he was immediately ushered into the presence of his sovereign judge, either by Anubis
or by Horus. After he had kissed the threshold he penetrated into the 'Hall of Double Justice. This
was an immense room at the end of which sat Osiris under a naos, guarded by a frieze of coiled
uraeus: Osiris, 'the Good One, redeemer and judge who awaited his 'son who came from earth. In
the centre was erected a vast scale beside which stood Maat, Goddess of truth and justice, ready to
weigh the heart of the deceased. Meanwhile Amemait, 'the Devourer' - a hybrid monster, part lion,
part hippopotamus, part crocodile - crouched nearby, waiting to devour the hearts of the guilty.
All around the hall, to the right and to the left of Osiris, sat forty-two personages. Dressed in their
winding-sheets, each held a sharp-edged sword in his hand. Some had human heads, others the
heads of animals. They were the forty-two judges, each corresponding to a province of Egypt; and
each was charged with the duty of examining some special aspect of the deceased's conscience.
The deceased himself began the proceedings and without hesitation recited what has been
called 'the negative confession. He addressed each of his judges in turn and called him by name to
prove that he knew him and had nothing to fear. For, he affirmed, he had committed no sin and
was truly pure.
Then followed the weighing of his soul, or psychostasia. In one of the pans of the balance
Anubis or Horus placed Maat herself, or else her ideogram, the feather, symbol of truth. In the
other he placed the heart of the deceased. Thoth then verified the weight, wrote the result on his
tablets and announced it to Osiris. If the two pans of the balance were in perfect equilibrium Osiris
rendered favorable judgment. 'Let the deceased depart victorious. Let him go wherever he wishes
to mingle freely with the Gods and the spirits of the dead.'
The deceased, thus justified, would lead from then on a life of eternal happiness in the
kingdom of Osiris. It is true that it would be his duty to cultivate the God's domains and keep
dykes and canals in good repair. But magic permitted him to avoid all disagreeable labor. For at
burial he would have been furnished with ShabtLi (Ushabtis) or 'Answerers' - those little statuettes
in stone or glazed composition which have been found in tombs by the hundreds and which,
when the dead man was called upon to perform some task, would hasten to take his place and do
the job for him.
Maat is depicted as a woman standing or sitting on her heels. On her head she wears the
ostrich feather which is an ideogram of her name - truth or justice. She was the Goddess of law,
truth and justice. The texts describe her as the cherished daughter and confidante of Ra, and also
the wife of Thoth, the judge of the Gods who was also called 'the Master of Maat.
She formed part of the retinue of Osiris, and the chamber in which the God held his
tribunal was named the 'Hall of Double Justice, for Maat was often doubled into two absolutely
identical Goddesses who stood one in each extremity of the vast hall. As we have just seen, Maat
also took her place in one pan of the balance opposite the heart of the dead in order to test its
In reality Maat was a pure abstraction, deified. The Gods, it was taught, loved to nourish
themselves on truth and justice. Thus, in the ritual of the cult, it was the offering of Maat which
genuinely pleased them; and in the temples we see the king, at the culminating point of divine
office, presenting to the God of the sanctuary a tiny image of Maat - an offering which was more
agreeable to him than all the others he had received, no matter how rich they were.
Neheh (Heh), 'Eternity, is another deified abstraction. The God of eternity is represented
as a man squatting on the ground in the Egyptian manner and wearing on his head a reed, curved
at the end. We often see him thus, carved on furniture and other horaelj objects, holding in his
hands the sign for millions of years and various emblems of happiness and longevity.
MEN DEIFIED AND THE PHARAOH GOD
Imhotep, in Greek Imuthes, signifies 'He who comes in peace' Imhotep was by far the most
celebrated among those ancient. sages who were admired by their contemporaries during their
lifetime and after their death finally worshipped as equals of the Gods. Imhotep lived at the court
of the ancient King Zoser of the third dynasty. He was Zoser's greatest architect and Zoser was the
constructor of the oldest of the pyramids. During his reign, as recent discoveries have revealed,
the stone column seems to have been employed for the first time in the history of architecture.
By the time of the New Kingdom Imhotep was already very famous. He was reputed to
have written the 'Book of Temple Foundations, and under the Pharaohs of Sais his popularity
increased from year to year. Some time later, during the Persian domination, it was claimed that
Imhotep was born not of human parents but of Ptah himself. He was introduced into the Triad of
Memphis with the title 'Son of Ptah, thus displacing Nefertum.
He is represented with shaven head like a priest, without the divine beard, crown or
sceptre and dressed simply as a man. He is generally seated or crouching, and seems to be
attentively reading from a roll of papyrus laid across his knees.
He was patron of scribes and the protector of all who, like himself, were occupied with the
sciences and occult arts. He became the patron of doctors. Then - for ordinary people who
celebrated his miraculous cures - he became the God or, more accurately, the demi-God of
medicine. He was thus identified by the Greeks with Asclepius. Towards the end of paganism
Imhotep seems even to have relegated his father Ptah to second rank, and to have become the
most venerated God in Memphis.
Amenhotep, son of Hapu, whom the Greeks called Amenophis, was a minister of
Amenhotep III and lived in Thebes in the fifteenth century B.C.
'A sage and an initiate of the holy book,' we are told, 'Amenhotep had contemplated the
beauties of Thoth.' No man of his time better understood the mysterious science of the rites. He
was remembered by the Thebans for the superb edifices he had had built. Among these, one of the
most imposing was the funeral temple of the king, his master, of which to-day there remain only
the two statues that embellished the facade. They are gigantic statues and one of them was
renowned throughout antiquity under the name of the Colossus ofMemnon. Throughout the
centuries the renown of Amenhotep continued to grow. In the Saite epoch he was considered to be
a man 'who, because of his wisdom, had participated in the divine nature. Magic books were
attributed to him and miraculous stories told about him.
In the temple of Karnak there vtfere statues of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, to which divine
honoure were paid; but he never became a real God like Imhotep, son of Ptah. He was, however,
venerated in company with the great divinities in the little Ptolemaic temple of Deir el Medineh.
The old sage is generally portrayed as a scribe, crouching and holding on his knees a roll of
Pharaoh must also be named among the Gods of Egypt; for the king's divinity formed part
of the earliest dogmas. To his subjects, moreover, he was the Sun God, reigning on earth. He wore
the Sun God's uraeus which spat forth flame and annihilated his enemies. All the terms which
were used in speaking of him, of his palace and of his acts could apply equally to the sun. It was
taught that he actually perpetuated the solar line; for, whenever there was a change of king, the
God Ra married the queen, who then bore a son who, in his turn, mounted the throne of the
In temples, and particularly those of Nubia, many ancient kings and the living king himself
were often worshipped in company with the great Gods. Thus we sometimes see pictures of the
reigning Pharaoh worshipping his own image.
Among the countless sacred animals which, especially in later times, were worshipped in
the Nile Valley we shall here give details of only the most celebrated, those who were worshipped
under their own names in the temples.
THE SACRED ANIMALS
Apis is a Greek rendering of Hapi. As the 'Bull Apis' he is to-day the best known of the
sacred animals. Very popular and honoured throughout Egypt, he was tended and worshipped at
Memphis, where he was called 'the Renewal of Ptah's life. He was Ptah's sacred animal and
believed to be his reincarnation. Ptah in the form of a celestial fire, it was taught, inseminated a
virgin heifer and from her was himself born again in the form of a black bull which the priests
could recognise by certain mystic marks. On his forehead there had to be a white triangle, on his
back the figure of a vulture with outstretched wings, on his right flank a crescent moon, on his
tongue the image of a scarab and, finally, the hairs of his tail must be double.
As long as he lived Apis was daintily fed in the temple which the kings had had built for
him in Memphis opposite the temple of Ptah. Every day at a fixed hour he was let loose in the
courtyard attached to his temple, and the spectacle of his frolics attracted crowds of the devout. It
also drew the merely curious; for a visit to the sacred animals was a great attraction for the tourists
who were so numerous in Egypt during the Graeco-Roman era.
Each of his movements was interpreted as foretelling the future; and when Germanicus
died it was remembered that the bull, shortly before this, had refused to eat the delicacies which
Germanicus had offered him.
Normally Apis was allowed to die of old age. Ammianus Marcel-linus, however, tells us
that if he lived beyond a certain age he was drowned in a fountain. During the Persian tyranny the
sacred bull was twice assassinated, by Cambyses and by Ochus. Space is lacking to describe how
the Egyptians mourned the death of Apis, and their transports of joy at the announcement that his
successor had been found. We should also have liked to describe the vast subterranean chambers
discovered in 1850 at Saqqarah where the mummified bodies of the sacred bulls were, after
splendid funeral services, buried in immense monolithic sarcophagi of sandstone or pink granite.
Above these underground galleries arose a great temple of which to-day nothing remains.
In Latin it was called the Serapeum. Here the funeral cult of the dead bull was celebrated. He had
become, like all the dead, an'Osiris' and was worshipped under the name Osiris Apis. This in
Greek was Osorapis, which caused him quickly to be confused with the foreign God Serapis, who
was worshipped according to a purely Greek ritual in the great Serapeum at Alexandria. A God of
the underworld, Serapis was confused at Memphis with Osorapis and was worshipped with
Osorapis in his funerary temple. Due to this confusion the temple was thenceforth called
Other Sacred Bulls
To be brief we shall only enumerate the three other important bulls of Egypt.
Mneuis is the Greek rendering of Merwer, the Bull of Meroe also called Menuis. He was
the bull sacred to Ra Atum at Heliopolis. It seems that he was of a light colour, although Plutarch
speaks of his black hide.
Buchis, the Greek for Bukhe, was the bull sacred to Menthu at Hermonthis. According to
Macrobius, the hair of his hide, which changed colour every hour, grew in the opposite direction
from that of an ordinary animal. The great vaults where the mummies of Buchis were buried were
discovered near Armant by Robert Mond, who in 1927 had already found the tombs of the cows
which bore these sacred bulls.
Onuphis, the Greek rendering of Aa Nefer, 'the very good, ' was the bull in which the soul
of Osiris was said to be incarnated, as Ra Atum re-appeared in Mneuis and Mont was reembodied
Petesuchos is the Greek rendering of an Egyptian word meaning 'he who belongs to
Suchos' (or Sebek). He was the sacred crocodile in which was incarnated the soul of Sebek, the
great God of the Fayyum who had his chief sanctuary in Crocodilopolis, the capital of the
province, which was called Arsinoe from the time of the second Ptolemy.
At Crocodilopolis, in a lake dug out near the great temple, Petesuchos was venerated. He
was an old crocodile who wore * golden rings in his ears. His devotees riveted bracelets to his
forelegs. Other crocodiles, also sacred, composed his family and were fed nearby.
In the Graeco-Roman era the crocodiles of Arsinoe were a great attraction for tourists.
Strabo tells us how in the reign of Augustus he paid a visit to Petesuchos. 'He is fed,' Strabo writes,
'with the bread, meat and wine which strangers always bring when they come to see him. Our
friend and host, who was one of the notabilities of the place and who took us everywhere, came to
the lake with us, having saved from our luncheon a cake, a piece of the roast and a small flagon of
honey. We met the crocodile on the shore of the lake. Priests approached him and while one of
them held open his jaws another put in the cake and the meat and poured in the honey-wine.
After that the animal dived into the lake and swam towards the opposite shore. Another visitor
arrived, also bringing his offering. The priests ran round the lake with the food he had * brought
and fed it to the crocodile in the same manner..'
For many centuries no one has worshipped Petesuchos, but in the center of Africa those
who dwell on the southern shores of Lake Victoria-Nyanza today still venerate Lutembi, an old
crocodile who for generations has come to the shore each morning and evening at the call of the
fishermen to receive from their hands the fish they offer him.
Like Petesuchos of old, the crocodile Lutembi has become a profitable source of revenue
for his votaries. For, since many people come to see him out of curiosity, the natives demand a fee
for calling him to the shore and make the visitor pay well for the fish they give him.
Sacred Rams were also very popular in Egypt. Chief among them was Ba Neb Djedet, 'the
soul of the lord of Djedet, a name which in popular speech was contracted into Banaded and in
Greek rendered as Mendes. In him was incarnated the soul of Osiris, and the story which
Herodotus brought back about the ram - which he wrongly calls 'the He-goat of Mendes' -
confirms the veneration in which this sacred animal was held. Thoth himself, said his priests, had
formerly decreed that the kings should come with offerings to the 'living ram. Otherwise infinite
misfortune would spread among men. When Banaded died there was general mourning; on the
other hand immense rejoicing greeted the announcement that a new ram had been discovered,
and great festivals were held in order to celebrate the enthronement of this king of Egyptian
The Bird Bennu must also be mentioned among the sacred animals; for, though he was
purely legendary, the ancients did not doubt his reality. Worshipped at Heliopolis as the soul of
Osiris, he was also connected with the cult of Ra and was perhaps even a secondary form of Ra.
He is identified, though not with certainty, with the Phoenix who, according to Herodotus'
Heliopolitan guides, resembled the eagle in shape and size, while Bennu was more like a lapwing
or a heron. The Phoenix, it was said, appeared in Egypt only once every five hundred years. When
the Phoenix was born in the depths of Arabia he flew swiftly to the temple of Heliopolis with the
body of his father which, coated with myrrh, he there piously buried.
Much more remains to be said on the subject of the sacred animals. In most sanctuaries the
God or Goddess of the locality was supposed to be incarnate in the animal kept: a cat in the temple
of Bast, a falcon or an ibis in the temple of Horus or Thoth. In addition, popular superstition in
later times so grew that every individual of the species of animal in whose body the provincial
God was incarnate was regarded as sacred by the inhabitants of that province. It was forbidden to
eat them, and to kill one was a heinous crime. Since, however, different nomes venerated different
animals it could happen that a certain species which was the object of a cult in one province was
mercilessly hunted in the neighbouring province. This sometimes gave rise to fratricidal wars such
as that which, in the first century of the Christian era, broke out between the Cynopolitans and the
Oxyrhynchites. The latter had killed and eaten dogs to avenge themselves on the former for
having eaten an oxyrhynchid. a kind of spider crab. Plutarch writes:
'In our days, the Cynopolitans having eaten a crab, the
Oxyrhynchites took dogs and sacrificed them and ate their flesh
like that of immolated victims. Thus arose a bloody war between
the two peoples which the Romans put an end to after severely
Certain animals - cats, hawks, ibis were venerated all over Egypt and to kill them was
punishable by death.
'When one of these animals is concerned, writes Diodorus, 'he
who kills one.
be it accidentally or maliciously, is put to death. The populace
flings itself on him and cruelly maltreats him, usually before he
can be tried and judged. Superstition towards these sacred animals
is deeply rooted in the Egyptian's soul, and devotion to their cult is
passionate. In the days when Ptolemy Auletes was not yet allied to
the Romans and the people of Egypt still hastened to welcome all
visitors from Italy and, for fear of the consequences, carefully
avoided any occasion for complaint or rupture, a Roman killed a
cat. The populace crowded to the house of the Roman who had
committed this "murder"; and neither the efforts of magistrates
sent by the king to protect him nor the universal fear inspired by
the might of Rome could avail to save the man's life, though what
he had done was admitted to be accidental. This is not an incident
which I report from hearsay, but something I saw myself during
my sojourn in Egypt.'
Cats, indeed, were so venerated that when a building caught fire the Egyptians, Herodotus
tells us, would neglect the fire in order to rescue these animals whose death to them seemed more
painful than any other loss they might sustain. When one of the sacred animals died it was
considered an act of great merit to provide for its funeral; and in certain cases, such as the bull
Apis, the king himself made it his duty to take charge of the obsequies.
Pity for dead animals reached an almost unbelievable degree. To give an idea of this it may
be mentioned that crocodile ccmeteries have been discovered where the reptiles were carefully
mummified and buried with their newly bom and even with their eggs.
Animals, birds, fish, reptiles of all kinds that were venerated by the ancient inhabitants of
the Nile valley were interred by the hundreds of thousands. An example of the abundance of these
corpses can be found at Beni Hasan, where the cats' cemetery has been commercially exploited for
the extraction of artificial fertiliser.
Herodotus did not exaggerate when he wrote that the Egyptians were the most religious of
A LIST OF ANIMALS WHOSE HEADS APPEAR ON EGYPTIAN DIVINITIES
The following is a table, in alphabetical order, of those animals whose heads were borne by
certain Gods. Only the Gods mentioned in this study are listed. We have omitted the countless
genii and lesser divinities who on tomb decorations and in illustrations of funerary papyri were
also represented with animal heads.
See also:Apis, Mont
Cat:Bast perhaps, Mut
Cow:Hathor, Isis when identified with Hathor
Dog-faced ape:Hapi, Thoth at times
Donkey:Set (in later times)
Falcon:Ra-Harakhte, Horus, Mont, Khons Hor, Qebhsnuf
Lioness:Sekhmet, Tefnut (sometimes Mut and Renenet)
Ram with curved
Ram with wavy
horns:Khnum, Hershef or Harsaphes
See alsoMertseger and Renenet
Wolf:Upuaut, Khenti Amenti
animal called the
From the beginning of the third millennium B.C., a flourishing civilization existed on the
lower banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, due to two neighboring peoples: the Akkadians and
the Sumerians. The land of Sumer was situated around the upper end of the Persian Gulf, which
in those days probably extended much further inland than it does to-day, although this belief has
recently been challenged. The towns of Eridu to the south and Nippur to the north marked its
extreme limits: other towns were Lagash, Umma, Erech, Larsa and Ur. The Sumerians had
probably come from central Asia or the Siberian steppes. The land of Akkad, which lay
immediately to the north of Sumer, was peopled by Semites who had probably come from
northern Syria. The site of the city, Agade, from which it took its name, has not yet been identified.
Its other principal towns were - from south to north - Borsippa, Babylon, Kish, Kutha and Sippar.
The question of which of these two peoples was the older has been disputed, as has the
part attributable to each in the development of civilization. As to the respective contributions of
the two races to religion which is all that concerns us here, it is probably most accurate to regard
Assyro-Babylonian religion as not primarily a Semitic religion but as one resulting from the
semitisation of an originally Sumerian or, to employ a more general term, Asian basis.
However that may be, there was indubitably a reciprocal penetration between the religions
of Sumer and Akkad. Each city doubtless venerated its own divinities, but each also welcomed
those of neighboring cities. Conquerors, moreover, would impose their own gods on regions
subdued. In time, these new gods would become identified with the indigenous gods and, if not
actually assimilated, form affiliations and relationships with them. It is this intermixture of the
Akkadian and Sumerian pantheons, completed by the contributions of later epochs, which
constitutes Assyro-Babylonian mythology.
The myth of the Creationis given to us in a series of seven tablets which in the main come,
like most of the other religious texts which we shall make use of, from the library of Ashurbanipal
in Nineveh. Tablets date from the seventh century B.C., while there are some pieces from Ashur
going back to 1000 B.C. The work as we, have it must be based on much older original texts.
Water is the primordial element. From the fusion of sweet water (Apsu) and salt water (Tiamat)
arose all beings, beginning with the gods.
The Apsu, which is here personified, was a kind of abyss filled with water which encircled
the earth. The earth itself was a round plateau. This plateau was bounded by mountains on which
rested the vault of heaven, and it floated on the waters of the Apsu. From the Apsu came the
springs which broke through the surface of the earth. The Apsu may be compared to the River
Oceanus of the Greeks, which Homer also called the father of all things.
Tiamatwas a personification of the sea and represented the feminine element which gave
birth to the world. In the continuation of the story she represents the blind forces of primitive
chaos against which the intelligent and organising gods struggle.
Lakhmu and Lakhamuwere the first two to be born. They are rather vague gods, and
seem to be a pair of monstrous serpents. They gave birth to Anshar. the male principle, and to
Kishar, the female principle, who represented respectively, so some think, the celestial and the
terrestrial worlds. In the same way the Greek gods were born of the union of Uranus, the sky, and
Gaea, the earth. But while in Greek mythology Gaea played an important role Kishar does not
appear again in the story.
In the Epic of the Creation it will be noticed that the principal role is played by Marduk; it
is he who triumphs over Tiamat and organises the universe. This is explained by the Babylonian
origin of the poem, for Marduk was, as we shall later see, the great god of Babylon.
Now this is how the people of Sumer and Akkad explained the origin of the world.
In the beginning when 'the sky above had not been named
and the earth below was nameless' there existed only Apsu, the
primordial ocean, and Tiamat, the tumultuous sea. From their
mingled waters came forth first Mummu (the tumult of the waves)
then a pair of monstrous serpents. Lakhmu and Lakhamu, who in
their turn gave birth to Anshar, the celestial world, and to Kishar.
the terrestrial world. To Anshar and Kishar were born the great
gods: Ann, the powerful; Ea, of vast intellect; and the other
divinities. These latter were the Igigi who peopled the sky, and the
Anunnake who were scattered over the earth and through the
Soon the new gods with their turbulence disturbed the
repose of old Apsu who complained to Tiamat: 'During the day I
have no rest and at night I cannot sleep.' The two ancestors argued
about the annihilation of their descendants.
'Why should we destroy all that we have rnade?' asked
'Even though their way is troublesome!' But Ea, who
perceived all things, learnt of Apsu's design and by his magic
incantations was able to seize Apsu and Mummu.
Tiamat, enraged, gathered around her a certain number of
the gods and gave birth to enormous serpents 'with sharp teeth,
merciless in slaughter', to terrible dragons with glittering scales, to
tempest-monsters, savage dogs, to scorpion-men, furious
hurricanes, fish-men and rams. To command this troop she chose
Kingu, to whom she gave sovereignty over all the gods, pinning on
his breast the tablets of fate.
Meanwhile Ea, who knew of Tiamat's plans, went to his
father Anshar. 'Tiamat, our mother,' he said, 'has conceived a
hatred against us. She is gathering an army together, she storms
with fury.' Listening to his son, Anshar was moved. He 'struck his
thigh, he bit his lip, his stomach knew no more rest'. At first he
sent Anu against Tiamat, but Anu lacked the heart to confront the
goddess. Ea was no more courageous. Then Ea summoned Bel-
Marduk, 'the son who makes his heart swell', and bade him to do
battle with Tiamat, promising him the victory.
Marduk accepted, but first insisted that the assembled gods
should confer on him supreme authority. Anshar consented and at
once sent his messenger Gaga to Lakhmu and Lakhamu, as well as
to the other Igigi. All hastened to the Upshukina and, having
kissed each other, sat down to a banquet. After they had eaten
bread and drunk wine they prepared a princely dwelling for
Marduk, the king. They acknowledged his rule over all the world
and accorded him the sceptre, the throne and the palu, giving him
the unrivalled weapon which repelled all enemies, 'Go', they said
to him, 'and slay Tiamat. May the winds carry her blood to secret
Thus invested Marduk took in his right hand a bow, fixed
the string, hung a quiver at his side, set lightning before him and
made a net in which to entangle Tiamat. He loosed the winds
which he posted beside him; then, taking his chief weapon, the
hurricane, he mounted his chariot - a terrifying tempest - which
was drawn by four swift and violent steeds, fearful in battle. Thus
'arrayed in terror' he went forth to challenge Tiamat to battle.
They rose up, Tiamat and Marduk the Wise, among the gods. The Epic of the Creation
(Tablet IV, vs. 93-104. Dhorme's translation), tells us:
They marched to war, they drew near to give battle.
The Lord spread out his net and caught her in it.
The evil wind which followed him, he loosed it in her face.
She opened her mouth, Tiamat, to swallow him.
He drove in the evil wind so that she could not close her lips.
The terrible winds filled her belly. Her heart was seized,
She held her mouth wide open.
He let fly an arrow, it pierced her belly.
Her inner parts he clove, he split her heart.
He rendered her powerless and destroyed her life.
He felled her body and stood upright on it.
The death of Tiamat spread confusion among her followers. Her auxiliaries fled in disorder
to save their lives, but Marduk caught them in his net and took them all prisoner. With Kingu he
threw them in chains into the infernal regions. Then, returning to Tiamat, he split her skull and cut
the arteries of her blood. And, as he contemplated the monstrous corpse, he 'conceived works of
art'. He clove the body 'like a fish into its two parts'. From one half he fashioned the vault of the
heavens, from the other the solid earth. That done, he organised the world. He constructed a
dwelling-place for the great gods in the sky and installed the stars which were their image; he
fixed the length of the year and regulated the course of the heavenly bodies.
Thus the earth was formed. Then 'in order that the gods should live in a world to rejoice
their hearts' Marduk created humanity. According to the Epic of the Creation Marduk moulded
the body of the first man using the blood of Kingu. A neo-Babylonian text from Eridu says that he
was aided in his work by the goddess Aruru who 'produced with him the seed of mankind'.
Finally there appeared the great rivers, vegetation and animals, wild and domestic. The work of
creation had been achieved.THE WORLD OF THE GODS ULTIMATE INFINITE