Egypt is the land of mysteries and secrets, some of which we still have not uncovered even today. The vast land along the bank has watched many civilizations rise and fall over the course of history. Like other ancient civilizations, Egypt also had a large and complex pantheon of gods and goddesses.
Ancient Egyptian religion had hundreds of different gods and goddesses, each with its own characteristic values. Most Egyptian gods represented a principal aspect of the world, such as the sun or the earth. However, as Egyptian society evolved over the course of thousands of years, these gods also changed their characteristics. Below are six of the most popular and widely worshipped gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt:
1. Amun – The King of Gods and Goddesses
Also known as Ammon and Amen, Amun was a local deity of the southern city of Thebes who rose to prominence in the New Kingdom (c. 1539–1292 BCE). The name Amun means the Hidden One or One with Mysterious Form, implying that his true identity will always remain a mystery. He was usually represented as a human wearing a crown with two vertical plumes; however, sometimes, his animal symbols – ram and goose – were also used to depict him.
Although originally Amun was the god of air, he was later combined with the sun god Ra to become Amun-Ra, the king of all Egyptian gods and goddesses and ruler of the Great Ennead. He was considered the Egyptian manifestation of the Greek god Zeus.
Together with his female counterpart Amunet and their son Khonsu, the god of the moon, he formed the famous Theban Triad that was worshipped throughout Egypt. Even though Karnak was the chief temple of Amun, his cult spread even outside the borders of Egypt to adjoining countries like Ethiopia, Libya, Palestine, and Nubia.
2. Ra – The God of the Sun
Also known as Re, the supreme sun god was one of the most popular deities of ancient Egypt. Portrayed as a falcon-headed man crowned with a solar disk and the sacred serpent, Ra was considered the first Pharaoh of the world. According to Egyptian mythology, Ra would sail across the sky in a golden ship each day and then travel through the underworld city of Duat at night, where he would have to defeat the snake god Apophis. The ancient Egyptians celebrated the sunrise every day as it meant that Ra had emerged victorious in his battle and caused a new day to begin. Although Ra is known for his falcon head, he is shown as a man with a ram head when he passes through the underworld.
Many sun temples were built in honor of Ra during the period of the Old Kingdom when his cult was most influential. The center of his cult was Heliopolis. Egyptian kings would claim to be descended from Ra and call themselves ‘Sons of Ra’ to gain public support. Due to his widespread popularity in Ancient Egypt, Ra subsumed the identities of many other Gods so that Amun became Amun-Ra and Montu became Montu-Ra. He also shared an association with Horus, due to which he was known as the Horus of the Horizon.
3. Geb – The God of the Earth
Geb, the god of the earth, was depicted as a bearded god with a goose on his head. Considered one of the first gods to appear from the sea of chaos at the beginning of time, Geb represented vegetation, fertility, and healing. He was the son of Shu – the god of air – and Tefnut – the goddess of moisture.
According to Egyptian mythology, Geb laid the egg from which the sun hatched. Ancient Egyptians believed that he weighed the hearts of the dead in the Judgement Hall and retained the souls of the wicked people. They also believed that earthquakes occurred because of his roaring laughter. His sacred animal was the goose, giving him the title the Great Cackler. He was famous in Lower Egypt; however, he did not have any cult.
Geb married his Nut – the sky of goddesses – and together, they gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. He is also associated with the Greek god Kronos.
4. Nut – The Goddess of Sky
Nut – also spelled as Nuit, Newet, and Neuth – was the Egyptian goddess of the sky. She was the daughter of the infamous Shu and Tefnut. She was also the wife of Geb, with whom she had four children: Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys.
She is depicted as a human woman, her elongated body blue and covered in constellations. She is often pictured stretching over Geb, which symbolizes the spread of sky over the earth. Ancient Egyptians believed that Nut swallowed the setting sun – the God Ra – each evening and then gave birth to him the following morning. According to Egyptian mythology, Ra had a prophecy that Geb and Nut’s children would take over his crown, so he did his best to keep them apart. However, their love prevailed in the end, and they had four children. Nut was often painted on the ceilings of tombs and temples and the inside lid of coffins.
5. Osiris – The God of Underworld
Osiris represented death and resurrection and was one of the most important deities of ancient Egypt. He was the oldest son of Nut and Geb and the husband/brother of Isis.
Originally, Osiris was a vegetation god, which symbolized the growth of crops and the cycle of Nile floods that brought agricultural fertility. According to the infamous myth, Osiris was murdered and dismembered by his brother Seth. However, his wife/sister, Isis, reassembled his body and brought him back to life to conceive a child with him. After being resurrected, he started living in the underworld, where he became the ruler and judge of the dead.
He was depicted as a mummified king, wearing wrappings all around his body, leaving only his hands and face exposed. He was dressed like pharaohs, holding the crook and flail of kingship and wearing an Atef crown. Sometimes he was portrayed with the horns of a ram on his head as well. His skin was shown as either blue to represent the dead or black to represent the fertile earth. The center of Orisis’ cult was Abydos, where people believed his head was buried. Osiris and Isis had a son named Horus, who later avenged his death and became the new Pharaoh of Egypt.
6. Anubis – The God of Death and Mummification
Anubis was the protector of the dead who helped prepare the souls of the departed for the Afterlife. He also escorted the dead to the Duat – the hall of judgment. He was closely associated with mummification and embalming, making him the god of funerals as well. It was Annubis who helped Isis turn Osiris into the first mummy.
Annubis was the son of Seth- the god of darkness and chaos – and Nephthys. He was portrayed with the body of a man and the head of a jackal. Ancient Egyptians often saw jackals hanging around the graveyards, so they assumed that jackals were the sacred animal of Anubis. Their priests even wore jackal masks when they mummified the body of a Pharaoh to show respect to Anubis. The center of his cult was Cynopolis, modern-day El Kes.
Egypt has a rich history full of Pharaohs, pyramids, and deities with animal features. Curious to know more about the ancient Egyptian civilization? Read the following articles to quench your thirst for knowledge: