views updated May 18 2018






Alternate Names


Appears In

Ancient Egyptian myths and prayers



Character Overview

One of the most important gods in Egyptian mythology , the sun god

Ra (also known as Re) was the supreme power in the universe. The giver of life, he was often merged with the god Amun as Amun-Ra. Some myths present Ra as the head of the Egyptian pantheon and ruler of all the gods. Others say that he was the only god, and that all other deities were merely aspects of Ra.

In some creation myths, Ra emerged from either an ancient mound or waters as Ra-Atum, and created Tefnut (pronounced TEF-noot, meaning “moisture”) and Shu (pronounced SHOO, meaning “air”). From this first divine pair sprang the sky goddess Nut (pronounced NOOT) and earth god Geb, who created the universe and gave birth to the gods Osiris (pronounced oh-SYE-ris), Isis (pronounced EYE-sis), Set , Nephthys (pronounced NEF-this), and Horus the Elder (pronounced HOHR-uhs).

Major Myths

Ra appeared in many myths and legends. As the sun god, he rode across the sky in a golden ship, bringing light and warmth to all creatures living on earth. When the sun set in the evening, he descended to the underworld , or land of the dead, and brought light and air to the people who dwelled there. Each evening Ra's servants helped him batde his eternal enemy, the mighty snake Apophis (pronounced uh-POH-fis), who tried to swallow Ra and all his creations. Some stories said that Ra sailed along the body of Nut, the sky goddess, during the day and then traveled through her body at night, being born anew each morning.

According to one series of myths, Ra first ruled during a golden age. Everything he saw was perfect, and the sight of such wonders brought tears to his eyes. The tears fell to earth and grew into human beings. In time, however, Ra became angry with the humans because of their actions. He summoned his divine eye, the beautiful goddess Hathor (pronounced HATH-or), and transformed her into Sekhmet (pronounced SEK-met), a savage lioness. Ra sent the lioness to earth to kill humans, but after she had caused massive bloodshed, he decided to save the humans that remained. He played a trick on Sekhmet, getting her so drunk on beer that she forgot to continue killing. Nevertheless, death had now been introduced into the world.

In another myth, the goddess Isis wished to learn the secret name of Ra. The name contained great power, which Isis planned to use to make her magical spells stronger. By this time, Ra had become quite old. Isis collected some of the spit that drooled down his chin, mixed it with clay, and made a poisonous snake. One day as Ra was out walking, the snake bit him. Tormented by terrible pain, Ra summoned the other gods to help him. Isis promised to relieve his suffering, but only if he revealed his powerful secret name. He finally agreed, and Isis used the name in a magical spell to remove the poison and heal the sun god.

Ra in Context

The chief center for Ra's worship in ancient Egypt was the city of Heliopolis (pronounced hee-lee-OP-uh-luhs). As worship of Ra grew, it challenged the supremacy of all other local religions and eventually became a part of them. Ra remained the principal god throughout the history of ancient Egypt, and Egyptian pharaohs, or rulers, claimed to be the sons of Ra in order to link themselves to him.

Key Themes and Symbols

Because ancient Egyptian deities were so often combined with other gods in different regions and during different periods, Ra symbolized many different things. However, two elements of Ra's character were fairly constant. First, Ra was directly linked to the sun, which meant he also embodied light and life-giving warmth. Second, Ra was associated with the leaders of Egypt, and was seen as the symbolic leader of Egyptian culture.

Ra in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

In ancient art, the god Ra is commonly shown with the head of a falcon wearing a shining solar disk on its head. In modern times, Ra has been referenced in many books, television shows, and films. Ra appeared as a main character in the 1994 science fiction film Stargate, which suggested that Ra was actually an alien who came to be worshipped by the ancient Egyptians for his advanced technological powers.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research the gods known as Amun-Ra, Atum-Ra, and Ra-Horakhty. How are these gods related to Ra? Why do you think the identities of other gods became linked to Ra? Does seeing how religious beliefs change throughout history challenge the idea that religion and myth are based on eternal, unchanging truths?

SEE ALSO Amun; Creation Stories; Egyptian Mythology; Hathor; Isis; Nut; Osiris; Set; Thoth; Underworld


views updated May 18 2018

Ra 1 / / (also Re) Egyptian Mythol. the sun god, the supreme Egyptian deity, worshiped as the creator of all life and typically with a falcon's head bearing the solar disc. From earliest times he was associated with the pharaoh. Ra2 • symb. the chemical element radium.


views updated May 18 2018

Ra (Re) In Egyptian mythology, Sun god of Heliopolis and lord of the dead. He sailed his sun boat across the sky by day, and through the underworld by night. He is most often depicted as falcon-headed, with a solar disc on his head.


views updated May 23 2018

RA • abbr. ∎  regular army. ∎  Astron. right ascension.


views updated May 14 2018

Ra in Egyptian mythology, the sun god, the supreme Egyptian deity, worshipped as the creator of all life and typically portrayed with a falcon's head bearing the solar disc. He appears travelling in his ship with other gods, crossing the sky by day and journeying through the underworld of the dead at night. From earliest times he was associated with the pharaoh.


views updated May 08 2018