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Amon (Egyptian deity)

Amon (ā´mən, ä´–), Ammon (ă´mən), or Amen (ä´mĕn), Egyptian deity. He was originally the chief god of Thebes; he and his wife Mut and their son Khensu were the divine Theban triad of deities. Amon grew increasingly important in Egypt, and eventually he (identified as Amon Ra; see Ra) became the supreme deity. He was identified with the Greek Zeus (the Roman Jupiter). Amon's most celebrated shrine was at Siwa in the Libyan desert; the oracle of Siwa later rivaled those of Delphi and Dodona. He is frequently represented as a ram or as a human with a ram's head.

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Egyptian mythology

Egyptian mythology Polytheistic mythology that developed in small agricultural communities, each with its own local deities, united under the Pharaohs. A vast pantheon of gods and a multiplicity of myths emerged. Each religious centre had its own creation myth justifying itself as the centre of existence. Although there is an account of the Flood, there is no Eden, no past ‘golden age’, no prediction of the end of the world.

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Amun

Amun (Amon) Ancient Egyptian deity of reproduction or the animating force. The ‘invisible one’, Amun is commonly represented as a human being wearing ram's horns and a twin-feathered crown. He gradually assimilated other Egyptian gods, becoming Amun-Ra (the supreme creator). During the dynasties of the New Kingdom, Amun was worshipped as a victorious national god. His cult temple was at Weset (Luxor).

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Amon

Amon

According to an ancient grimoire, Amon is the great and powerful marquis of the infernal empire. He is represented as a wolf with a serpent's tail, vomiting flame. When he appears in human form, his head resembles that of a large owl with canine teeth. He is the strongest of the princes of the demons, knows the past and the future, and can reconcile friends who have quarreled. He commands 40 legions.

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Amun

Amun a supreme god of the ancient Egyptians, identified with the sun god Ra, and in Greek and Roman times with Zeus. As a national god of Egypt he was associated in a triad with Mut and Khonsu. A variant form of the name is Ammon.

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Amon

AMON

National god of Egypt. His name is spelled also as Amun. Amon was originally one of the local gods of thebes (Noh), but when that city became prominent in the Twelfth Dynasty (19911786 b.c.), he became the chief god of Thebes, which then became known as No-Amon (City of Amon), as it is called in Nehemiah 3.8; see also Jeremiah 46.25. st. jerome translated nō' 'āmôn in Nehemiah 3.8 erroneously as Alexandria populorum (Alexandria of the nations); therefore Amon's name does not appear in the Vulgate. In the Eighteenth Dynasty (1570c. 1304) Amon emerged as the supreme god of the whole nation, having been identified with ra (Re) the sun-god and called Amon-Ra, "the King of the gods." The main sanctuary of Amon was the enormous temple in the section of Thebes now known as Karnak, but he was worshiped throughout Egypt and even in Libya and Nubia (Biblical Ethiopia). His wife Mu (the mother) and his son Chonsu (the wanderer, i.e., the moon) formed a triad of gods. Amon's name (Egyptian imn, "hidden") stresses his mysterious and inscrutable nature; he was difficult to find and was often associated with the invisible wind that could only be heard and that, as breath, was the mysterious source of life in man and beast. Amon was also worshiped under several names with different attributes. As Khen or Kin he was the god of reproduction, and as Khnum he was "the maker of gods and men." He was sometimes represented by a human body with the head of a ram, the animal sacred to him, or simply by a pair of ram's horns. More often, however, he was featured in wholly human form with two long feathers on his head. The Greeks and Romans identified Amon with Zeus or Jupiter and called the Egyptian city of Thebes Διόσπο λιS (city of Zeus).

See Also: egypt, ancient, 1

Bibliography: Encylopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman, (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 7071. h. jacobsohn, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:327. h. stock, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Frieburg 195765) 1:464. k. sethe, Amun und die acht Urgötter von Hermopolis [Abhandlungen der Deutschen (Preussischen, to 1944) Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin 4; 1929]. j. a. wilson, The Burden of Egypt: An Interpretation of Ancient Egyptian Culture (Chicago 1951) 130131, 169172. h. frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York 1961).

[h. mueller]

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Amon

AMON

AMON (Heb. אָמוֹן, אָמֹן), son of *Manasseh; became king of Judah (642–640 b.c.e.) at the age of 22. The author of Chronicles considered the "transgressions" of Amon to have been "more numerous" than those of his father Manasseh (ii Chron. 33:23). The reasons for Amon's assassination by members of his court are not explained in the Bible, but the conspirators were put to death by the am ha-areẓ (i.e., "the people of the land," probably the large landowners). They enthroned his young son Josiah. It has been argued that the conspirators were opponents of the pro-Assyrian policies of Manasseh and Amon, while the am ha-areẓ were pro-Assyrian. Support for the hypothesis is based on synchronizing Amon's reign with the period of a rebellion in Syria against Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, which is reported in Assyrian sources. On this analysis, Amon, who is said to have followed the ways of his father Manasseh (ii Kings 21:20–21), would have remained loyal to the Assyrian régime and opposed this rebellion, while the intervention of the am ha-areẓ and their crowning of the eight-year-old Josiah were intended to forestall eventual complications after the suppression of the rebellion by the Assyrians. But a revised chronology of Ashurbanipal's inscriptions militates against the suggested synchronism.

In the Aggadah

Talmudic tradition considers Amon, in the light of what is said in Chronicles, as the worst of Judah's kings and concludes that his sins surpassed those of Ahaz and Manasseh. Ahaz put his seal on the Torah to prevent the reading of it; Manasseh erased the names of God from the Torah; while Amon ordered all of the Torah scrolls burned. Only one Torah scroll, which was found during the reign of Josiah, managed to escape his decree. The sins of Amon in the interruption of the Temple cult were also extremely severe (Sanh. 103b; sor 24). Nevertheless, Amon is not enumerated among the kings (Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manasseh) who do not have a portion in the World to Come. This was a consequence of the merit of his son Josiah (Sanh. 104a).

bibliography:

Malamat, in: Tarbiz, 21 (1949/50), 123 ff.; idem, in: iej, 3 (1953), 26–29; Bright, Hist, 294–5; M. Streck (ed.), Assurbanipal, 1 (Ger., 1916), ccclxi ff.; em, s.v. (includes bibliography); S. Yeivin, Meḥkarim be-Toledot Yisrael ve-Arẓo (1960), 254, 289, 317. add. bibliography: M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (1988), 275–76. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1947), 281; 6 (1946), 267, 376.

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Amun

AMUN

AMUN was originally one of the eight primordial gods of Hermopolis in Middle Egypt. Together with his consort Amaunet, Amun represented the precreation chthonic aspect of "hiddenness." This pair, with the three other pairs comprising the Hermopolitan ogdoad, produced the egg from which the creator god came forth.

In the Middle Kingdom (20501756 bce), when a Theban family took the throne of Egypt their local god, Montu, a war god, became assimilated with Amun and also with Min, the ithyphallic fertility god of Coptos, Thebes' neighbor and ally. This new, all-powerful, anthropomorphic god also incorporated the attributes of his predecessor, Re, the chief god of the Egyptian pantheon in the later Old Kingdom (26862181 bce). Amun-Re, "king of the gods," who was sometimes represented as a ram-headed sun god, had as his consort Mut ("mother"); their son, Khonsu, was the local moon god.

The cult center and chief temple of Amun-Re, at Karnak in the Theban nome of Upper Egypt, was begun in the Middle Kingdom and was added to and greatly enlarged through the next two thousand years. This cult temple became the religious center of Egypt; it benefited greatly from the victorious campaigns of New Kingdom pharaohs (15671160 bce) and eventually was controlled by a family of priests who also became kings of Egypt in the twenty-first dynasty.

Henotheistic hymns to Amun-Re were very near to the tone of Akhenaton's hymn to Aton. The so-called Amarna Revolution that Akhenaton fostered seems to have been as much a political move against the growing power of the priesthood of Amun as a religious move to supplant Amun-Re, though the reaction to Akhenaton's changes appeared as a condemnation of heresy.

The chief festivals of Amun-Re included the Opet Feast and the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. In the former the image of the god in his shrine was carried in procession on a bark between Karnak and the Luxor temple, which was known as the Southern Harem. For the Feast of the Valley, the statue of the god was ferried to the west bank of the Nile for visits at several of the royal mortuary temples and shrines in this vast Theban necropolis.

To the south of Egypt, in Nubia, devotion to Amun was at least as fervent as it was in Egypt during the Late Period. When Piye (Piankhy) conquered Egypt (c. 750 bce) he intended to set things right for Amun in his native land. He even left his own daughter to serve as Divine Adoratress of Amun at Karnak. Some of the largest additions to the Karnak temple were made during the last native dynasties, and important additions were made by the Greek rulers after Alexander's conquest.

See Also

Akhenaton.

Bibliography

Otto, Eberhard. Osiris und Amun: Kult und heilige Stätten. Munich, 1966. Translated by Kate B. Griffiths as Ancient Egyptian Art: The Cult of Osiris and Amon (New York, 1967).

Sethe, Kurt H. Amon und die acht Urgötter von Hermopolis: Eine Untersuchung über Ursprung und Wesen des ägyptischen Götterkonigs. Berlin, 1929.

Leonard H. Lesko (1987)

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Amun

Amun

Sources

The Hidden One . Amun, whose name means “the hidden one,” was originally associated with the area of Thebes. When Theban families rose to prominence and became the rulers of all Egypt, first in Dynasty 12 (circa 1938-1759 b.c.e.), and again in Dynasty 18 (circa 1539-1295/1292 b.c.e.), Amun’s power and influence also increased. As the Dynasty 18 kings expanded Egypt’s empire into Asia, they attributed their successes to Amun’s blessings and rewarded his priesthood accordingly. Eventually, Amun joined with Re and rose to become the state god of Egypt, known as Amun-Re, king of the gods, lord of the thrones of the two lands. During the Third Intermediate Period (circa 1075-656 b.c.e.) the priesthood of Amun at Thebes became the

virtual rulers of southern Egypt, and one of the most important priestly offices was that of God’s Wife of Amun.

Wind and Air . Amun was usually depicted as a human wearing a cap adorned with two tall, multicolored feathers. His skin is blue, perhaps related to Amun’s association with the wind and air. His principal cult center was at Karnak, where he was worshiped in conjunction with his consort Mut (goddess representing motherhood) and their son Khonsu (the wanderer, representing the Moon). He was associated with the ram and the goose.

Progenitor . In the Hermopolitan cosmogony (so-called because it is thought to have originated in Hermopolis, before being transferred to Thebes) Amun is one of the sixteen gods representing the state of the world before creation. These gods make up an ogdoad, or group of eight pairs of deities. This group includes Nu(n) and Naunet (representing the primeval water and formlessness), Huh and Huhet (spaciousness), Kek and Keket (darkness), and Amun and Amaunet (hidden-ness). Another tradition describes how Amun, in his form of Kematef (a serpent deity), fathers the ogdoad. This idea of Amun being his own progenitor and therefore having no creator is also encountered in the form of Amun Kamutef, “Amun, bull of his mother,” that is to say, Amun was his own father.

Kingship . Amun was closely associated with kingship. Reliefs from New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.) temples describe the divine birth of the king. Amun was said to have fallen in love with the queen of Egypt. He visited her in the guise of her current husband, the reigning king, and fathered the next king of Egypt. When the child was born, Amun acknowledged his paternity and presented the child to the gods as the future king of Egypt.

Sources

Jan Assmann, Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun and the Crisis of Polytheism, translated by Anthony Alcock (London & New York: Kegan Paul International, 1995).

Assmann, The Search for God in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001).

Eberhard Otto, Egyptian Art and the Cults of Osiris and Amon, translated by Kate Bosse Griffiths (London: Thames & Hudson, 1968).

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Amun

Amun

Nationality/Culture

Egyptian

Pronunciation

AH-muhn

Alternate Names

Amon, Amun-Ra

Appears In

Egyptian creation myths

Lineage

Father of the Pharaohs

Character Overview

At first, Amun (pronounced AH-muhn) was only one of many deities (or gods) worshipped by the Egyptians. As he became more important, he was combined with the sun god Ra to form a new deity called Amun-Ra. Egyptians honored Amun-Ra as king of the gods and creator of the universe. They also believed him to be the father of the pharaohs, or kings of ancient Egypt, and believed he would help these rulers triumph in battle. The worship of Amun-Ra remained strong throughout Egypt until almost the time of the birth of Jesus. The ancient Greeks associated Amun-Ra with Zeus , their own supreme god.

Major Myths

According to an Egyptian creation myth, Amun is one of sixteen gods that, when paired off within the group, represent some different aspect of the pre-created world. The pairing of Amun and Amaunet represents “concealment.” In at least one tradition, Amun actually fathered this group of gods, and Amun's importance can be seen in that he himself had no father. In other words, he did not need another god to create him.

Changing Identities of Egyptian Gods

The ancient Egyptians often combined different gods into a single deity, a process that scholars call “syncretism.” There are many reasons why the Egyptians practiced syncretism. In some cases it was a political decision meant to encourage loyalty and maintain peace—as during the reign of the Ptolemies (a Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt for three hundred years), when the Greek deities Zeus and Helios were linked with the Egyptian deities Osiris and Apis to form the Greco-Egyptian deity Serapis. In other cases, there is not any clear reason why gods were linked. In general, however, these linkages did not prevent Egyptians from continuing to worship the gods individually. The identities of Egyptian gods were not fixed or stagnant, but changed to accommodate political and social changes, so the Egyptians could worship both Serapis and Osiris at the same time.

Reliefs from New Kingdom temples describe a myth in which Amun falls in love with the queen of Egypt. He visits her in the form of her husband, the king, and fathers a child. When the child is born, Amun declares the child to be his and presents his son to the other gods as the future king.

Amun in Context

For much of the history of ancient Egypt, Amun was honored as the supreme god in the Egyptian pantheon, the entire collection of gods and goddesses recognized by a group of people. But political changes in Egypt affected his popularity at different times. He was originally a local deity in Hermopolis, a city in southern Egypt, and had power over the air or wind. By 2000 bce, Amun's popularity had spread to the capital of Thebes, and rulers—perhaps in an effort to increase their own popularity amongst the people—began to honor him as the national god of Egypt. However, after invaders known as the Hyksos (pronounced HICK-sus) conquered northern Egypt in the 1700s bce, only people in the south continued to worship Amun. When the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos in the 1500s bce, Amun's influence expanded rapidly, as did the size and splendor of his temples. Two of the largest temples of ancient Egypt, located at Luxor and Karnak, were devoted to the worship of Amun, and his followers controlled great wealth.

Key Themes and Symbols

Amun usually appears in Egyptian art as a bearded man wearing a headdress of two ostrich feathers, a broad necklace, and a close-fitting garment. His skin is typically blue, perhaps to show his connection to the wind and the air. In one hand, he has an ankh (pronounced AHNK), the Egyptian symbol of life, and in the other, he holds a scepter, a symbol of authority. He is often portrayed sitting on a throne like a pharaoh. As Amun-Ra, the god is sometimes shown with the head of a hawk topped by a golden disk representing the sun, which is encircled by a serpent. He is also associated with the ram and the goose.

Amun in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Amun was one of the most popular subjects of ancient Egyptian art. His image appears on ancient monuments throughout Egypt and remains a popular symbol of ancient Egyptian beliefs. It has been suggested that the Judeo-Christian use of the word “amen” at the end of a prayer is derived from the name Amun, though many scholars dispute this claim.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

What does the history of Amun indicate about ancient Egyptian religious beliefs? Do they seem to remain fixed and unchanging, or do they seem to change and evolve over time? Do you think this is also true for other religions?

SEE ALSO Egyptian Mythology; Ra; Zeus

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Egyptian Mythology

Egyptian Mythology

Bordered by deserts, Egypt's Nile River valley was relatively isolated from other centers of civilization in the ancient Near East for thousands of years. As a result, Egyptian religion remained almost untouched by the beliefs of foreign cultures. The religion included a large and diverse pantheon of gods and goddesses, and around these deities arose a rich mythology that helped explain the world.


pantheon all the gods of a particular culture deity god or goddess

Conquest by the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great in 332 b.c. and by the Romans about 300 years later weakened the Egyptian religion. By about a.d. 400, Christianity had become the dominant faith of the land.

Cults and Deities

Religion and religious cults played a central role in all aspects of ancient Egyptian society. The king, or pharaoh, was the most important figure in religion as well as in the state. His responsibilities included ensuring the prosperity and security of the state through his relationship with the gods.


Role of the King. The ancient Egyptians believed that the king was a divine link between humans and the gods. As a living god, he was responsible for supporting religious cults and for building and maintaining temples to the gods. Through such activities, he helped maintain order and harmony.

The idea of order, or ma'at, was a basic concept in Egyptian belief, reflecting such notions as truth, cooperation, and justice. Egyptians imagined their world as being surrounded by chaos that constantly threatened to overwhelm ma'at. By pleasing the gods through his religious obligations, the king could maintain order and protect society from disorder.

cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

chaos great disorder or confusion

Because of his critical role in promoting the welfare of Egyptian society, the pharaoh was in some ways more important than any individual god. His official names and titles reflected his special relationship to the gods, particularly to the sun god Ra and the sky god Horus. Some kings sought to gain full status as gods during their lifetimes. Others achieved that position after their deaths.


The Egyptian Pantheon. Ancient Egypt had a remarkably large and diverse pantheon of deities, with many national, regional, and local gods and goddesses. Unlike the gods of some cultures, who lived in a special place in the heavens, Egyptian deities were thought to inhabit the temples of their cults. Daily temple rituals involved caring for the gods and providing them with food, clothing, and other necessities.

Egyptian gods tended to have shifting identities. Many did not have clearly defined characters, and their personalities might vary from one myth to another. Although most deities were known by certain basic associationssuch as the connection of the god Ra with the sunthese associations often overlapped with those of other gods. Some deities possessed a collection of names to go with the different sides of their personality. For example, the goddess Hathor, who helped the sun god, was also called the Eye of Ra. Sometimes the names and characters of two or more gods were combined to form one deity, such as the combination of the sky god Amun and Ra (Re) into Amun-Ra. The creator god Atum merged with Ra to become Ra-Atum. Nevertheless, such deities might continue to exist separately as well as in their combined forms.

Egyptian gods also could assume different forms, often combining both human and animal features. If a deity was closely associated with a particular animal or bird, he or she might be shown in art with a human body and the head of that animal or entirely in animal form. Thus, Horus appears with the head of a falcon, Sekhmet with the head of a cat, and Set is portrayed as a donkey or huge dog. Sometimes a god was linked to several animals, each reflecting a different side of his character.

The gods were powerful and for the most part immortal, but their influence and knowledge had limits. Still, they had the ability to be in several places at the same time and could affect humans in many ways. Although generally benevolent, gods could bring misfortune and harm if humans failed to please them or care for them properly.

Egyptian deities were often grouped together in various ways. The earliest grouping was the ennead, which consisted of nine gods and goddesses. The most important of these, the Great Ennead of the city of Heliopolis in northern Egypt, contained the deities associated with creation, death, and rebirth. Another major grouping was the ogdoad four pairs of male and female deities. Triads, found mainly in local centers, generally consisted of a god, a goddess, and a young deity (often male).

Temple Cults

Most Egyptian religious cults centered on a temple and the daily rituals performed there. Each temple contained images of the cult's god, generally kept in the innermost part of the building. Daily ceremonies involved clothing, feeding, and praising the god's image. The pharaoh had overall responsibility for all cults, but the temple priests supervised the daily rituals. Although temple rituals affected the welfare of all the people, common Egyptians rarely took part in them. They attended only special festivals, which often included processions of the god's images and reenactments of popular myths.

immortal able to live forever

benevolent desiring good for others

Major Deities. Although Egypt had thousands of gods and goddesses, only a few were regarded as major deities. The sun god Ra (Re) was a deity of immense power, considered to be one of the creators of the universe. The combined god Amun-Ra, a mysterious creator spirit, was the source of all life. Ra-Atum represented the evening sun that disappeared each night below the horizon and rose again at dawn. Another sun god, Aten, became the focus of religious reform in the 1300s b.c., when the pharaoh Akhenaten tried to make him the principal god of Egypt.

Osiris, Isis, and Horus, who made up the best-known Egyptian triad of deities, played leading roles in some of the major Egyptian myths. Osiris, the lord of the underworld and god of death and resurrection, was the brother and husband of Isis, a mother goddess of Egypt. Horus was their son. Osiris and Isis were the children of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. Set, another child of Geb and Nut, changed from a benevolent god to an evil one and murdered his brother Osiris.

One of the oldest goddesses of Egypt was the sky goddess Hathor, a mother goddess sometimes known as a deity of fertility, love, and beauty. Ptah, another ancient deity, was credited in some myths with creating the world and other gods. Thoth, a patron of wisdom and arts, was the scribe of the gods. He was said to have invented hieroglyphics, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine, as well as to have written the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Anubis, a god of the dead, presided over funerals and guided dead souls through the underworld.


Major Myths and Themes

Very few actual Egyptian myths have been preserved from ancient times. Modern scholars have reconstructed stories from such sources as hymns, ritual texts, magical incantations, images on temple walls, and decorations on tombs and coffins. Some myths about major deities were known and valued throughout Egypt. But many gods and the legends about them had only regional significance. Even the widespread myths often changed or adapted to new situations over the centuries, resulting in numerous variations of a particular story.


Creation Myths. The Egyptian creation myth has many versions. According to one account, the world was originally a dark, endless chaos of primeval waters. The forces of chaos were represented by an ogdoad consisting of four pairs of deities: Nun and Naunet, the god and goddess of the primeval waters; Kek and Ketet, the forces of darkness; Heh and Hehet, the spirits of boundlessness; and Amun and Amaunet, the invisible powers. In some versions of the myth, the god Ptah is associated with Nun and plays a central role in creation.

triad group of three


resurrection coming to life again; rising from the dead

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

scribe secretary or writer

hieroglyphics ancient system of writing based on pictorial characters

underworld land of the dead

incantation chant, often part of a magical formula or spell

primeval from the earliest times

Within the waters of chaos, the spirit of creation waited to take form. When a primeval mound rose above the waters, Amun (or Ra) emerged and used divine powers to establish order (ma'at ) out of the chaos. The spirit of creation (Amun or Raor sometimes Ptah) then made other gods and humans to inhabit the world. Some accounts say that the gods were formed from the sweat of the creator spirit and that humans came from his tears.

Another part of the Egyptian creation myth concerned the formation of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. The first of these nine gods was Ra-Atum, who emerged from the primeval waters and created Shu, the god of air, and Tefnet, the goddess of moisture. Shu and Tefnet united to produce the earth god Geb and sky goddess Nut. Geb and Nut stayed very close together, leaving no room for anything to exist between them. Finally Shu separated the two, providing space for other creatures. Geb and Nut eventually had two pairs of male-female twins: Osiris and Isis and Set and Nephthys. The birth of these gods and goddesses completed the ennead.


Related Entries

Other entries related to Egyptian mythology are listed at the end of this article.

Solar Myths. Another group of Egyptian myths involved the sun gods and the daily cycle of their movement. According to one story, the sun god was born each day at dawn and crossed the sky

Egyptian Deities
Deity Role
Amun supreme god, combined with the sun god Ra to form a new deity called Amun-Ra, who was king of the gods and creator of the universe
Anubis god of the dead
Aten personification of the sun and later an all-powerful and creator god under the pharaoh Akhenaten
Atum god of the sun and creation
Geb god of the earth
Hathor mother goddess associated with fertility and love, goddess of the sky
Horus sun god and sky god, ruler of Egypt, identified with the pharaoh
Isis mother goddess
Nut goddess of the sky and mother goddess
Osiris god of the underworld and judge of the dead
Ptah creator god, patron of sculpting and metalworking
Ra (Re) sun god, combined with the supreme god Amun to form a new deity called Amun-Ra, who was king of the gods and creator of the universe
Set god of violent and chaotic forces
Thoth god of wisdom and knowledge, patron of scribes

in a boat filled with other gods and spirits. At nightfall, he descended to the underworld, where he traveled throughout the night, only to be born again the next day. During his passage through the sky and the underworld, the sun god faced dangers from a giant snake named Apep (or Apophis) and other enemies who tried to interrupt his journey.

The Egyptians celebrated the sun's cycle daily in temples and sang hymns and incantations to help ensure that the sun god would escape danger and continue his journey They believed that the movements of the sun god made it possible for the world to be created anew each day.


Myths of Osiris. According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was one of the most important pharaohs. In time, his cult rivaled those of Ra and Amun, and myths about Osiris were widespread. Most of the stories involve three basic themes: the struggle between good and evil, the cycle of birth and rebirth, and the judgment of the dead.

As pharaoh, Osiris civilized the Egyptian people by introducing agriculture, establishing laws, and teaching them to worship the gods. Osiris decided to travel around in the world to bring civilization to other peoples. During his absence, he left his sister-wife, Isis, in charge.

Myth and Magic

Magic played an important role in Egyptian religion, often providing a way to avoid or control misfortune. Magical spells might include versions of myths. All gods had secret, divine names that carried magical powers. One spell told the story of how Isis discovered the secret name of Ra, which she then used to increase her own magical skills. Many spells were used to treat the bites of snakes and scorpions, generally regarded as symbols of the forces of chaos. The god Thoth, a patron of wisdom, was closely connected with magic.

By the time Osiris returned to Egypt, his evil brother Set had concocted a plot to kill him. Set had crafts workers build a beautifully decorated box to the measurements of Osiris's body. At a lavish banquet, Set displayed the box and announced that he would give it to the person whose body fit in it exactly. When Osiris lay in the box, Set and his supporters closed the top and nailed it shut. Then they carried the box to the Nile River and threw it in the water.

When Isis heard of Set's treachery, she was overcome with grief and set out to find her husband's body. During the course of her travels, she learned that the box had floated to the shores of the land of Byblos and had become trapped in the branches of a tree. The tree had grown to a great size, and the king of Byblos had cut it down to make a pillar for one of the rooms in his palace.

Isis went to Byblos and recovered the box. Then she brought it back to Egypt and hid it. However, Set discovered the box and cut Osiris's body into many pieces, scattering them all over Egypt. Accompanied by her son Horus and sister Nephthys, Isis gathered the pieces and used her magical powers to bring the dead Osiris back to life. Osiris then became the king of the gods and the underworld.

To avenge his father and to punish Set for his evil deeds against Osiris, Horus fought his uncle three times. Their battles represented a struggle between good and evil. Horus won each battle, and in the end, the gods decided that he was the rightful heir to the thrones of both Upper and Lower Egypt. Set was forced to accept this judgment. With Horus as pharaoh, Isis went to live with Osiris in the underworld, where he ruled as lord of the dead.

The underworld and the idea of the afterlife played a central role in Egyptian religion. When humans died, their souls began a difficult journey through the underworld. Spells and incantations helped them on their way, and these eventually were collected in a group of texts known as the Book of the Dead.

When the dead person's soul reached Osiris's throne room, it was placed on a scale balanced by a white feather symbolizing truth. Osiris, assisted by Horus, Anubis, and Thoth, sat in judgment. Individuals found innocent of various sins could live among the gods until their bodies were one day resurrected and reunited with the soul. Those found guilty were condemned to eternal torment.


Legacy of Egyptian Mythology

The influence of Egyptian mythology and religion extended beyond the kingdom's borders. The ancient Greeks and Romans adopted some of Egypt's gods and myths, suitably modified to fit their cultures. Egyptian cults, particularly that of Isis, also spread to Greece and Rome. In his book The Golden Ass, Roman philosopher Lucius Apuleius mentions festivals of Isis, and the Roman historian Plutarch wrote down one of the most complete versions of the myth of Osiris and Isis.

Powerful Goddesses

In Egyptian mythology, goddesses were sometimes much mor e powerful than gods. Whe n angered, they could cause warfare and destroy those wh o crossed them. Amon g the most powerful and terrifying goddesses were Neith and Sekhmet. Neith, associated wit h hunting and warfare, gave birth to the giant snake Apep when she spat into the primeval waters. During the struggle between Horus and Set, she threatened to make the sky fall if the other gods did not take her advice for resolving the dispute. Sekhmet, portrayed as a terrifying lioness, was killed by rebellious humans during the early years after creation. The Egyptians sometimes sacrificed criminals to her, and it was thought that she used contagious diseases as her messengers.

Egyptian mythology has inspired modern writers, artists, and composers as well. The novel The Egyptian (1949) by Finnish author Mika Waltari refers to the supremacy of Aten over other gods. The opera Aida (1869) by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi is set in ancient Egypt and mentions the god Ptah.

See also Afterlife; Amun; Animals in Mythology; Anubis; Aten; Atum; Creation Stories; Hathor; Horus; Isis; Nut; Osiris; Ptah; RΑ(Re); Set; Thoth; Underworld.

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Egyptian Mythology

Egyptian Mythology

Egyptian Mythology in Context

Bordered by deserts, Egypt's Nile River valley was relatively isolated from other centers of civilization in the ancient Near East for thousands of years. As a result, Egyptian religion remained almost untouched by the beliefs of foreign cultures. The religion included a large and diverse pantheon, or collection of recognized gods and goddesses, and around these deities arose a rich mythology that helped explain the world.

Conquest by the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great in 332 bce and by the Romans about three hundred years later weakened the Egyptian religion. By about 400 CE, Christianity had become the dominant faith of the land.

Core Deities and Characters

Religion and religious cults (groups who worship specific gods) played a central role in all aspects of ancient Egyptian society. The king, or pharaoh, was the most important figure in religion as well as in the state. His responsibilities included ensuring the prosperity and security of the state through his relationship with the gods.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the king was a divine link between humans and the gods. As a living god, he was responsible for supporting religious cults and for building and maintaining temples to the gods. Through such activities, he helped maintain order and harmony.

Because of his critical role in promoting the welfare of Egyptian society, the pharaoh was in some ways more important than any individual god. His official names and titles reflected his special relationship to the gods, particularly to the sun god Ra and the sky god Horus (HOHR-uhs). Some kings sought to gain full status as gods during their lifetimes. Others achieved that position after their deaths.

Ancient Egypt had a remarkably large and diverse pantheon, with many national, regional, and local gods and goddesses. Unlike the gods of some cultures, who lived in a special place in the heavens, Egyptian deities were thought to inhabit the temples of their cults. Daily temple rituals involved caring for the gods and providing them with food, clothing, and other necessities.

Most Egyptian religious cults centered on a temple and the daily rituals performed there. Each temple contained images of the cult's god, generally kept in the innermost part of the building. Daily ceremonies involved clothing, feeding, and praising the god's image. The pharaoh had overall responsibility for all cults, but the temple priests supervised the daily rituals. Although temple rituals affected the welfare of all the people, common Egyptians rarely took part in them. They attended only special festivals, which often included processions of the god's images and reenactments of popular myths.

Egyptian gods tended to have shifting identities. Many did not have clearly defined characters, and their personalities might vary from one myth to another. Although most deities were known by certain basic associations—such as the connection of the god Ra (pronounced RAH) with the sun—these associations often overlapped with those of other gods. Some deities possessed a collection of names to go with the different sides of their personality. For example, the goddess Hathor (pronounced HATH-or), who helped the sun god, was also called the Eye of Ra. Sometimes the names and characters of two or more gods were combined to form one deity, such as the combination of the sky god Amun (pronounced AH-muhn) and Ra (sometimes Re) into Amun-Ra. The creator god Atum (pronounced AH-tuhm) merged with Ra to become Ra-Atum. Nevertheless, such deities might continue to exist separately as well as in their combined forms.

Egyptian gods also could assume different forms, often combining both human and animal features. If a deity was closely associated with a particular animal or bird, he or she might be shown in art with a human body and the head of that animal or entirely in animal form. Thus, Horus appears with the head of a falcon, Sekhmet (pronounced SEK-met) with the head of a cat, and Set (pronounced SET) is portrayed as a donkey or huge dog. Sometimes a god was linked to several animals, each reflecting a different side of his character.

The gods were powerful and for the most part immortal (able to live forever), but their influence and knowledge had limits. Still, they had the ability to be in several places at the same time and could affect humans in many ways. Although generally benevolent, or helpful to humans, gods could bring misfortune and harm if humans failed to please them or care for them properly.

Egyptian deities were often grouped together in various ways. The earliest grouping was the ennead (pronounced EN-ee-ad), which consisted of nine gods and goddesses. The most important of these, the Great Ennead of the city of Heliopolis (pronounced hee-lee-OP-uh-luhs) in northern Egypt, contained the deities associated with creation, death, and rebirth. Another major grouping was the ogdoad (pronounced OG-doh-ad)—four pairs of male and female deities. Triads, found mainly in local centers, generally consisted of a god, a goddess, and a young deity (often male).

Although Egypt had thousands of gods and goddesses, only a few were regarded as major deities. The sun god Ra (sometimes Re) was a deity of immense power, considered to be one of the creators of the universe. The combined god Amun-Ra, a mysterious creator spirit, was the source of all life. Ra-Atum represented the evening sun that disappeared each night below the horizon and rose again at dawn. Another sun god, Aten (pronounced AHT-n), became the focus of religious reform in the 1300s bce, when the pharaoh Akhenaten (pronounced ahk-NAHT-n) tried to make him the principal god of Egypt.

Osiris (pronounced oh-SYE-ris), Isis (pronounced EYE-sis), and Horus, who made up the best-known Egyptian triad of deities, played leading roles in some of the major Egyptian myths. Osiris, the lord of the underworld and god of death and resurrection (rebirth), was the brother and husband of Isis, a mother goddess of Egypt. Horus was their son. Osiris and Isis were the children of the earth god Geb (pronounced GEB) and the sky goddess Nut (pronounced NOOT). Set, another child of Geb and Nut, changed from a benevolent god to an evil one and murdered his brother Osiris.

One of the oldest goddesses of Egypt was the sky goddess Hathor, a mother goddess sometimes known as a deity of fertility, love, and beauty. Ptah (pronounced PTAH), another ancient deity, was credited in some myths with creating the world and other gods. Thoth (pronounced TO HT), a god of wisdom and arts, was said to have invented hieroglyphics, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine, as well as to have written the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Anubis (uh-NOO-bis), a god of the dead, presided over funerals and guided dead souls through the underworld or land of the dead.

In Egyptian mythology, goddesses were sometimes much more powerful than gods. When angered, they could cause warfare and destroy those who crossed them. Among the most powerful and terrifying goddesses were Neith (pronounced NEYT) and Sekhmet. Neith, associated with hunting and warfare, gave birth to the giant snake Apophis (pronounced uh-POH-fis) when she spat into the primeval waters. During the struggle between Horus and Set, she threatened to make the sky fall if the other gods did not take her advice for resolving the dispute. Sekhmet, portrayed as a terrifying lioness, was killed by rebellious humans during the early years after creation. The Egyptians sometimes sacrificed criminals to her, and it was thought that she used contagious diseases as her messengers. Magic played an important role in Egyptian religion, often providing a way to avoid or control misfortune. Magical spells might include versions of myths. All gods had secret, divine names that carried magical powers. One spell told the story of how Isis discovered the secret name of Ra, which she then used to increase her own magical skills. Many spells were used to treat the bites of snakes and scorpions, generally regarded as symbols of the forces of chaos. The god Thoth, a patron of wisdom, was closely connected with magic.

Major Egyptian Deities

Amun: supreme god, combined with the sun god Ra to form a new deity called Amun-Ra, who was king of the gods and creator of the universe.

Anubis: god of the dead.

Aten: personification of the sun and later an all-powerful and creator god under the pharaoh Akhenaten.

Atum: god of the sun and creation.

Geb: god of the earth.

Hathor: mother goddess associated with fertility and love, goddess of the sky.

Horus: sun god and sky god, ruler of Egypt, identified with the pharaoh.

Isis: mother goddess.

Nut: goddess of the sky and mother goddess.

Osiris: god of the underworld and judge of the dead.

Ptah: creator god, patron of sculpting and metalworking.

Ra (Re): sun god, combined with the supreme god Amun to form a new deity called Amun-Ra, who was king of the gods and creator of the universe.

Set: god of violent and chaotic forces.

Thoth: god of wisdom and knowledge, patron of scribes.

Major Myths

Very few actual Egyptian myths have been preserved from ancient times. Modern scholars have reconstructed stories from such sources as hymns, ritual texts, images on temple walls, and decorations on tombs and coffins. Some myths about major deities were known and valued throughout Egypt. But many gods and the legends about them had only regional significance. Even the widespread myths often changed or adapted to new situations over the centuries, resulting in numerous variations of a particular story.

Creation Myths The Egyptian creation myth has many versions. According to one account, the world was originally a dark, endless chaos of primitive waters. The forces of chaos were represented by an ogdoad consisting of four pairs of deities: Nun (pronounced NOON) and Naunet, the god and goddess of the waters; Kek and Ketet, the forces of darkness; Her and Hehet, the spirits of boundlessness; and Amun and Amaunet, the invisible powers. In some versions of the myth, the god Ptah is associated with Nun and plays a central role in creation.

Within the waters of chaos, the spirit of creation waited to take form. When a mound rose above the waters, Amun (or Ra) emerged and used divine powers to establish order (ma at) out of the chaos. The spirit of creation (Amun or Ra—or sometimes Ptah) then made other gods and humans to inhabit the world. Some accounts say that the gods were formed from the sweat of the creator spirit and that humans came from his tears.

Another part of the Egyptian creation myth concerned the formation of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. The first of these nine gods was Ra-Atum, who emerged from the primeval waters and created Shu (pronounced SHOO), the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. Shu and Tefnut united to produce the earth god Geb and sky goddess Nut. Geb and Nut stayed very close together, leaving no room for anything to exist between them. Finally Shu separated the two, providing space for other creatures. Geb and Nut eventually had two pairs of male-female twins: Osiris and Isis, and Set and Nephthys (pronounced NEF-this). The birth of these gods and goddesses completed the ennead.

Solar Myths Another group of Egyptian myths involved the sun gods and the daily cycle of their movement. According to one story, the sun god was born each day at dawn and crossed the sky in a boat filled with other gods and spirits. At nightfall, he descended to the underworld, where he traveled throughout the night, only to be born again the next day. During his passage through the sky and the underworld, the sun god faced dangers from a giant snake named Apophis and other enemies who tried to interrupt his journey.

The Egyptians celebrated the sun's cycle daily in temples and sang hymns and incantations to help ensure that the sun god would escape danger and continue his journey. They believed that the movements of the sun god made it possible for the world to be created anew each day.

Myths of Osiris According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was one of the most important pharaohs. In time, his cult rivaled those of Ra and Amun, and myths about Osiris were widespread. Most of the stories involve three basic themes: the struggle between good and evil, the cycle of birth and rebirth, and the judgment of the dead.

As pharaoh, Osiris civilized the Egyptian people by introducing agriculture, establishing laws, and teaching them to worship the gods. Osiris decided to travel around in the world to bring civilization to other peoples. During his absence, he left his sister-wife, Isis, in charge.

By the time Osiris returned to Egypt, his evil brother Set had concocted a plot to kill him. Set had craft workers build a beautifully decorated box to the measurements of Osiris's body. At a lavish banquet, Set displayed the box and announced that he would give it to the person whose body fit in it exactly. When Osiris lay in the box, Set and his supporters closed the top and nailed it shut. Then they carried the box to the Nile River and threw it in the water.

When Isis heard of Set's treachery, she was overcome with grief and set out to find her husband's body. During the course of her travels, she learned that the box had floated to the shores of the land of Byblos (pronounced BIB-luhs) and had become trapped in the branches of a tree. The tree had grown to a great size, and the king of Byblos had cut it down to make a pillar for one of the rooms in his palace.

Isis went to Byblos and recovered the box. Then she brought it back to Egypt and hid it. However, Set discovered the box and cut Osiris's body into many pieces, scattering them all over Egypt. Accompanied by her son Horus and sister Nephthys, Isis gathered the pieces and used her magical powers to bring the dead Osiris back to life. Osiris then became the king of the gods and the underworld.

To avenge his father and to punish Set for his evil deeds against Osiris, Horus fought his uncle three times. Their batdes represented a struggle between good and evil. Horus won each battle, and in the end, the gods decided that he was the rightful heir to the thrones of both Upper and Lower Egypt. Set was forced to accept this judgment. With Horus as pharaoh, Isis went to live with Osiris in the underworld, where he ruled as lord of the dead.

When the dead person's soul reached Osiris's throne room, it was placed on a scale balanced by a white feather symbolizing truth. Osiris, assisted by Horus, Anubis, and Thoth, sat in judgment. Individuals found innocent of various sins could live among the gods until their bodies were one day resurrected and reunited with the soul. Those found guilty were condemned to eternal torment.

Key Themes and Symbols

The idea of order, or ma at, was a basic concept in Egyptian belief, reflecting such notions as truth, cooperation, and justice. Egyptians imagined their world as being surrounded by chaos or disorder that constantly threatened to overwhelm ma'at.

Another important theme in Egyptian mythology is the afterlife . When humans died, their souls began a difficult journey through the underworld. Spells and incantations helped them on their way, and these eventually were collected in a group of texts known as the Book of the Dead. The importance of the afterlife can be seen in the myths of Osiris.

Egyptian Mythology in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The influence of Egyptian mythology and religion extended beyond the kingdom's borders. The ancient Greeks and Romans adopted some of Egypt's gods and myths, suitably modified to fit their cultures. Egyptian cults, particularly that of Isis, also spread to Greece and Rome. In his book The Golden Ass, Roman philosopher Lucius Apuleius (pronounced ap-yuh-LEE-uhs) mentions festivals of Isis, and the Roman historian Plutarch (pronounced PLOO-tahrk) wrote down one of the most complete versions of the myth of Osiris and Isis.

Egyptian mythology has inspired modern writers, artists, and composers as well. The novel The Egyptian (1949) by Finnish author Mika Waltari refers to the supremacy of Aten over other gods. The opera Aida (1869) by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi is set in ancient Egypt and mentions the god Ptah. Loosely interpreted Egyptian mythology has played a part in numerous films, including the 1994 science fiction film Stargate, the classic Universal horror film The Mummy, and its more action-oriented 1999 remake of the same name starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research the topic of Egyptian mummification. How did the Egyptians preserve the bodies of the dead? What was the purpose in preserving these bodies? What other items were placed in Egyptian burial chambers, and why? Did the Egyptians practice mummification on animals as well?

SEE ALSO Afterlife; Amun; Animals in Mythology; Anubis; Aten; Creation Stories; Hathor; Horus; Isis; Nut; Osiris; Ra; Set; Thoth; Underworld

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