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Egyptian Gods

Egyptian gods represent over 50 separate deities, most of which date back to pre-dynastic times. The ancient tribes that made up the region worshiped their own particular gods, which were normally embodied by an animal. As Egyptian civilization advanced, the deities took on human characteristics. In many cases, the gods were depicted with human bodies, while retaining animal heads. By the beginning of the Old Kingdom Dynasty (3100 BC), a national religion developed out of the primitive tribal and local religions. However, ongoing changes in political power resulted in the changing status of Egyptian gods. Generally, as different cities or regions became politically dominant, their particular god also became dominant.

The annual flooding of the Nile river, known as the "inundation," was the most important event in ancient Egypt. Between June and September each year the Nile swelled with water from the summer rains in the highlands of Ethiopia. All of Egypt's rich civilization depended on the inundation and its deposit of new, fertile silt, used for planting crops along the riverbanks.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped the Inundation as the god Hapi. He was depicted as a pot-bellied man with sagging female breasts. Hapi was thought to live in a cavern in Aswan, where. the flood first became noticeable. His myth explains that the flood poured from his cavern, "making the meadows laugh." No temples were built for Hapi, so he is often regarded as a minor god in the crowded Egyptian pantheon

According to one myth, the ouroboros, the cosmic serpent, lay coiled inside Hapi's cavern. It was the symbol of eternity and the endless renewal of time. The ancient Egyptians believed that this serpent was curled around the whole world. They thought that the waters, of the flood were no less important than the waters of the primal ocean, which covered the world at the beginning of time.

When releasing these waters each year, the serpent repeated the basic story of creation, in which the flood receded to reveal the land. Such repetitions, ensuring renewal, were central to the Egyptian religion. The serpent was the original form of the Egyptian creator god. He had rested in the primal ocean before time began and would, according to the ancient Egyptians, rest in the ocean once more when time - and therefore the world - came to an end.

To the ancient Egyptians, Hapi could be either a minor god, representing the annual flooding of the Nile river, or the creator god, represented by the ouroboros, the cosmic serpent. Some pharaohs, such as Tutankhamen in the Eighteenth Dynasty had statues carved depicting them as Hapi, whose annual flood was one unchanging, feature in the 3,000-year-old story of ancient Egyptian culture.

Before the building of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 modern Egyptian Muslims believed that on June 17, the Night of the Drop, a miraculous teardrop fell into the Nile river and caused it to rise. The rising of the Nile was announced in the streets by special Criers of the Nile, whose words of praise to Allah echoed the words of thc ancient hymn to Hapi.

Ancient Egyptian texts tell of more than one million gods - there were so many that they could not accurately be counted. But all of them were simply aspects of the creator god, who called himself Atum, the All. The two most important of these gods were the sun god Ra and Amen, the Great God Who Listens.

Where the interests of two gods coincided, they merged into a single god such as Amen-Ra. But where two elements of a god contradicted each other, they could separate again to be worshipped under their two different names. Managing this highly complex but very flexible religion was done by the priests who ran ancient Egypt's temples. Amen-Ra was worshipped as the creator of all things, who brought himself into being by saying, "I am!" In Karnak he was regarded as the king of the gods, and a temple was built in his name.

In 1352 B. C. the pharaoh Amenhotep IV took the throne and rejected the many old gods in favor of a single deity, the Aten, the Disk of the Sun. The pharaoh was offended by the complex nature of Egyptian religion and changed his name to Akhenaten, Servant of the Aten. He sent men to destrov the name of the god Amen-Ra wherever they found it. To destroy someone's name by defacing their monuments after death was literally to annihilate them, and this even for a god. After Akhenaten's death his son restored the worship of Amen-Ra and reopened his temples. The new pharaoh changed his own name to Tutankhamen, the Living Image of Amen.

Ra had so many names that even the gods did not know them all. One day the goddess Isis, mistress of magic, set herself the task of learning the names of all things so that she would become as great as Ra himself. After many years the only name Isis did not know was Ra's own secret name - so she decided to trap him to discover it.

Each day, as he sailed across the sky, Ra grew old, and he began drooling. Isis gathered up his saliva and shaped it with dirt into a snake, which she lelt lying in Ra's path. The snake bit hirn, and he fell down in pain: His secret name, which he had kept hidden in order to protect him from the spells of others, could not save him. Ra had no choice. He told Isis his secret name, and she commanded the poison to leave him.

  • The Sphinx: A mythical creature with the head of a man and the body of a lion, the sphinx was a common icon in Egypt. The Great Sphinx of Giza is the most splendid and familiar of the breed. Facing east with a temple between its paws, it is some 260 ft. long and 65 ft. high. Its head is said to be modeled after that of the Pharoah Khafra, who ruled from 2558 to 2532 B.C.; some scholars suspect it may be even older. The Greeks adopted the beast, making it a sign of ill omen. The Great Sphinx may well be jinxed, but the familiar story that Napoleon's soldiers blew its nose off while firing cannons in target practice is not true. The structure may have been vandalized by Islamic fanatics in the 14th century. Some recent writers have speculated that the Sphinx is some 10,500 years old, and that it is oriented to the constellations; scientists are unconvinced.
  • Afterlife Journeys: Remote in time and alien in belief, Egypt's culture has attracted speculation and pseudoscience for centuries. Like many of mankind's earliest major structures, pyramids, tombs and the passageways within them are in some cases oriented to the positions of the stars or the movement of the sun. The Egyptians believed in life after death, as seen in the detail from the Papyrus of Ani (circa 1240 B.C.), which shows the winged Ba, a soul or spirit through which the dead would someday join the afterlife, leaving Ani's mummy.
  • Tut's Curse: Since British archaeologist Howard Carter first entered the vault where the sarcophagus of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen reposed in 1922, "KingTut" has fascinated the world. When the expedition's sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, died shortly after the find, rumors arose of a supposed "curse of KingTut's tomb." But tales of legions of scientists dying after being in the vault are pure fiction.
  • Djoser: The Pyramid of Djoser, the first known step pyramid built in Egypt-or anywhere else. Such structures are precursors of the more technically complex slope-sided pyramids of later centuries. Scientists believe the Egyptians moved from this early version to the more advanced design in only a century or two. Djoser's pyramid is similar to the Mesopotamian ziggurat, the model for the Old Testament's Tower of Babel, an enduring symbol of man's hopes and follies.

    Joseph Campbell, the scholar of mythology, suggested the design of such buildings traveled from the Middle East to India and China, then - somehow- crossed the ocean to influence prehistoric Americans.

Egyptian gods

The sun god was either Ra or Aten, depending on which illiterate slave you asked. Osiris, king of the dead, judged your soul, or “ka,” after you died. He had 42 demon assistants, or “entertainment lawyers,” to aid him in this process. Osiris’ wife, Isis, taught humans the secrets of mummification, but her show aired opposite Barney, so it was canceled after one season.

It is not true to say that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death. Instead they were obsessed with life. All their rituals of death - mummification, entombment, and ritual remembrance - were aimed at ensuring new life after death. They wanted to live forever in the Field of Reeds, where the blessed dead harvested in rich crops under the watchful eye of Osiris, the lord of the dead.

The story of Osiris was the foundation myth that offered the ancient Eoyptians the hope of a new life after death. At first this was only for the pharaoh, who "became" Osiris in the underworld, but eventually the promise of eternal life was open to all Egyptians.

To ensure this continued life in the Field of Reeds, the ancient Egyptians believed that care had to he taken of all the elements that made up a complete person - the physical body, the name, the shadow, and the ba and the ka, which together are the equivalent of what we call the soul. After death they thought they would he led by jackal-headed Anubis into the Hall of the Two Truths.

Osiris once ruled as a king on earth. He taught the Egyptians many skills such as how to grow crops and how to make and use tools. But his jealous brother Seth murdered him and cut his body into 14 pieces, which he scattered across Egypt. Isis, the wife of Osiris, gathered all the pieces except for one, which was gobbled up by Sobek, thegreedy crocodile god. Together with the ibis god Thoth and jackal-headed Anubis, Isis put the body of Osiris hack together, making the first mummy. But she could only restore Osiris to life long enough to conceive an heir, Horus. After that Osiris had to return to the underworld to be the ruler of the dead.

The first Egyptian mummies were created by nature. When the bodies were buried in the hot sand, the body tissues dried out rather than rotting away. This preserved thc body and created a "natural" mummy. It may have been this discovery that gave the ancient Egyptians the idea of preserving human tissues.

The embalmers removed the lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver prior to mummification. But they alwavs left the heart in the body. They believed the heart of the deceased was weighed on scales against the feather of maat, "truth," in the Hall of Two Truths.

If the heart, heavy with evil thoughts and acts, weighed more than the feather of maat, it would be gobbled up by the monster Ammut, the devourer of the dead. With this terror avoided, the deceascd was led into the presence of Osiris and the other gods for judgment. Only when the gods were satisfied could the spirit of the deceased enter the Field of Reeds.

Hathor (Sekhmet) was the goddess of joy, motherhood, and love. She looked after all women. She was the goddess of music and dancing, as well. Dead women were identified with Hathor, as men were identified with Osiris. She has a sun disk on her head and cow horns. Sometimes she had cow's ears or was a whole cow. But she had another side as well, as Sekhmet, the Eye of Ra, the destructive Sun Goddess. The Egyptians knew that the Sun brought life, but they also knew that the desert Sun could kill you.

Ra, the Sun God, was angry with mankind, because they laughed at him. He said that he'd send down his anger as Sekhmet, the Eye of Ra. She went down to Earth, killing men, and drinking their blood. She started to frighten Ra, who only wanted to punish Mankind, not destroy them all. So he dyed some beer red, to look like blood. When Sekhmet saw the beer, she was thristy for blood, so she drank it all, got drunk and went to sleep. When she woke up, Ra persuaded her to stop killing Mankind.

Neil Philip. Mythology of the World . Kingfisher, Boston. 2004.

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