Ye Gods, Mythology in Ancient Egypt

Ye Gods!

David C. Scott

Perhaps no other part of the world has witnessed more religions and systems of belief than Egypt. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims it is part of the Holy Land, occupying a revered place in both their history and in their theology. Yet Egypt's religious tradition goes back even further, into the mists of prehistory. As one of the first places in the world where human beings developed civilization, it is also one of the first places in which codified religion evolved. Even the protohumans who occupied the first settlements in Egypt show traces of primitive belief of a level not normally found in similar cultures.

Certainly for the Western world, Egypt is where religion was born. The beliefs practiced by the ancient Egyptians at the height of their glory influenced the world around them, and their impact is still felt to this day. Though other civilizations predate them, and some of their beliefs are older, none have endured with the power of the gods of Egypt. They are the stuff of both legend and modern culture. They are transformed into heroes and villains for our books and movies. They have settled quite well into popular literature. They leap off the pages of comics and lend their names to high technology. Reproductions of their papyri hang in the offices of the Fortune 500. Egyptian-style artworks are in all the fashionable catalogues. The archaic revivalists focus on them as the core deities of human belief. They pervade the world around us at a level second only to the gods of Greece and Rome.

Why all the new interest in the deities of ancient Egypt? There are I believe a number of reasons, but the most important one is the notion that we, as a species, are reaching back in time for a stable moment. As a people, the human race is moving too quickly for some of us and has been for some time. As our technology advances further, our souls long for a more natural existence, a desire for times past. We've been reaching into the past for decades. The late Terence McKenna said that any time a civilization "gets into trouble, it casts itself back into the past, looking for the last sane moment it ever knew." Many aspects of our modern world show this. Look at how organic our cars and computers are looking. Plastics are giving way once more to wood, glass, and other more "natural" construction materials. This is why modern music has so many roots in tribal rhythms. Forget the minimalists and the assimilationists, just listen to jazz or rock and you'll see the desire for our ancient ancestors.

In the Sixties and Seventies, the United States went through a huge romantic period involving the American West, the cowboy and the Indian. At the same time, Europe continued to romanticize the Middle Ages. In the Eighties it was the New Agers who searched wildly for the older ways, almost becoming like the Theosophists and Rosicrucians who had led the archaic revival decades before. In the Nineties, everything came to a head with the creation of an almost global side-culture through the Internet. And what did we find happening? All over the world, computer networks named for Egyptian gods, artificial intelligence software called ISIS, high-tech mummification, a furor over possible alien relics that looked like a Sphinx's head and pyramids on Mars, the list goes on. The further we go, the further back we reach, and today we are reaching back almost to the dawn of the formation of faith. The Egyptian gods are some of the oldest gods of mankind, and they influenced the development of even the monotheistic religions that exist today. They have become the anchor for the modern world, just as the Greek and Roman gods were the anchor before that. Western science and philosophy owes much to the Greeks and Romans, but Western religion owes even more than that to Egypt.

And so we've redone our ancient Egyptian religion section on Tour Egypt. After all, it's important to know our roots, and the concepts created by the Egyptians echo in all the Western religions that came after. However, it is not my purpose to be overly scholarly about the Egyptian gods. I will tell you now that I have left ethnology to the ethnologists and have tried my best to make this site informative and enjoyable, rather than pedantic. What you will find here is a clear and concise listing of gods, goddesses, demigods, monsters, heroes, and myths. This is after all what most people want when they go looking for information on the Egyptian gods: stories. Those who were hoping for something deeper can go read Joseph Campbell. He's already said most of what needs to be said, I can add little to his works. For something even deeper, I recommend the writings of the aforementioned McKenna, possibly the foremost ethnologist of the latter Twentieth Century.

Man's first gods were the forces of nature. Terrifying and unpredictable, they were feared rather than revered by our ancestors. Yet while much of the world was in darkness, worshipping cruel incarnations of natural forces, the ancient Egyptians followed a different path. They worshipped gods that were beautiful to behold, luminous beings that walked the earth, guiding the human race to Paradise. They had human forms but were much more powerful; yet like humans, they got angry, despaired, fought with one another, had children, and fell in love. They lived lives that were very much like those of the people who worshipped them.

They were gods to be feared yes, as all gods are, but they were also gods to be loved. What's more, the Egyptians enjoyed talking about the gods. Like the gods of the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptian gods seemed to be made for storytelling. There were tales to educate, tales to entertain, and tales with morals, and in those stories, the gods didn't seem so far away and unreachable. It was comforting to hear that the gods also wept for those they had lost, to hear about the gods laughing, to learn that the gods faced many of the same problems that the people did, albeit on a grander scale. In learning about the gods on such an intimate level, the Egyptians could better relate to the universe around them.

The ancient Egyptians practiced a belief system that was part totemism, part polytheism, and part ancestor worship. There were numerous gods, but rather than living on an isolated mountain or in an unreachable heaven, many of them lived invisibly in the mortal world, acting through sacred sites, items, animals, or even chosen people. Furthermore, the spirits of the deceased, if remembered and honored, could aid and guide the living from the Afterlife.

I'm a storyteller by nature, as are we all. The first religions were oral in nature, the laws and traditions passed down by word of mouth, carried by narrative and fable. I've tried to reflect this in the structure of this site. I've left out all the dry, and quite frankly boring, details about ritual and how Aru-Lat-Hotep translates to "Peace Beyond the Gate," which means that he is a derivative of the Sumerian god...

But I'm breaking my own rule already.

If I want dry, I'll go read a Master's Thesis on early Middle Eastern belief structure (in other words, I'll go read mine). Most of the users of this site I've talked to would rather hear stories, and I'd rather tell stories any day. I blame my father for this, having given me a copy of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths for my sixth birthday. I finally got my revenge by giving him a copy of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces for his sixty-sixth. That'll teach him.

I actually went through several drafts of the new site before finally settling on the storytelling angle. The original draft was horribly technical, including essays on the evolution of Egyptian religion, the role of the pharaoh in the death cult, and lengthy treatises on Egyptian ritual. I still can't believe I wrote any of it. Thankfully I abandoned it, because just about everyone I showed it to gave up reading about halfway. I have since considered submitting it to the publication house at the university, but as the market is already flooded with books on the Egyptian gods, I doubt it would go anywhere.

I settled on a much simpler and easier-to-follow format. There are two pages of deities, Greater Gods and Minor Gods. There is a page of Essays and Studies (and I invite contributions to the archive), and finally, a collection of Myths. I will warn you now, there is no way I could have included every god worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. Quite frankly, I think only the Shinto religion has more deities. I know I've left a few out, some of them I left out on purpose. I mean, there is only so much one can say about the god of toiletries. I've tried to include the popular deities, the well-known ones, the major players in the mythic cycles, and some of the really fun ones. But if I've left out your favorite, let me know and send me some information on them. I'll be sure to add them in.

Like all my pages, I expect this to be a constantly-evolving project. I eventually would like to add in hieroglyphics of the names of the gods and goddesses along with totem symbols and maybe even some pictures of each one. This however, will take some time to collect, but it will give you something to look forward to. I will be adding in new entries as I come across them in my research and so though it will be quite large by the time it is nearly complete, it will be quite thorough.

But that is a task for another day. Today I give this site to you to enjoy. Peruse the stacks, leaf through the volumes I've set up here. Remember the stories you read, and share them with those around you. A story isn't a story until it's told to someone else, after all.

Egypt - Not Just a Vacation, It's the Trip of a Lifetime! By Paul Groffie

Ye Gods - Egyptian Mythology By David Scott

What Disease was Akhen-Aton Suffering From? By Dr. Sameh Arab

Editor's Commentary By Jimmy Dunn

Ancient Beauty Secrets By Judith Illes

Book Reviews By Judith Illes

Kid's Corner By Margo Wayman

Cooking with Tour Egypt By Mary K Radnich

Hotel Reviews By Juergen Stryjak

Egyptian Exhibitions By deTraci Regula

Nightlife Various Editors

Restaurant Reviews Various Editors

Shopping Around By Juergen Stryjak

Egyptian View-Point By Adel Murad

Last Updated: June 1st, 2011