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The Gods
Of
Ancient Egypt

Bright is the earth when thou riseth in the horizon,
When thou shinest as Aten by day.
The darkness is banished, when thou sendest forth thy rays ...
Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt (c.1352-1336 BC)

o the Egyptians their gods were an essential part of their daily lives and the worship of gods in an animal form dates back to the earliest times in Egypt. They became associated with particular qualities of those animals, for example the strength of the lion, the ferocity of the crocodile or the tender care of the cow for her young.

As time passed the gods took human form but still retained the heads of animals. All animals they knew had some association with one of the gods and sacred animals were mummified and ceremonially buried.

Thutmose III
as Amun

Ordinary people had no access to the temples of the gods. This was the exclusive territory of the pharaoh and the priesthood. The king was believed to be a supreme being who maintained the unity and prosperity of Egypt. Since the peoples only link with the gods was through the king this encouraged them to worship him and, he in his turn, would talk to the gods on their behalf.

Temples were not churches for the community but rather homes for the gods. At the centre would be a sanctuary containing a statue, used by the god as a resting place. Daily rituals included washing and dressing this statue. Although the king is usually shown doing this in reality it was probably done by the priesthood.

In Egyptian mythology the god Ra appeared on the first solid ground and created a pair of deities, Shu and Tefnut. From them came Nut, the sky goddess, and Geb, the earth god. The children of Nut and Geb were the gods Osiris, Isis, Nephthys and Seth. This group of nine gods were worshipped at Heliopolis (present day Cairo) and other centres had similar groups of gods.

The sun god Ra had become the supreme state god by the 5th Dynasty. So much so that the king took the title "Son of Ra". On his death it was believed he would join his father Ra in heaven. Ra was joined with a minor god, Amun, to produce Amun-Ra who became supreme god in the time of the New Kingdom. Ra was also associated with the hawk god Horus to give Ra-Harakhty, Horus of the Horizon.

Aten shines
on Akhenaten

In the 18th Dynasty the pharaoh Amenhotep IV initiated a new religion, a worship of the sun in the form of Aten, the solar-disk. Amenhotep believed the rays of Aten were the exclusive source of life and creation. He changed his name to Akhenaten (Glory to Aten) in honor of his god. During his reign the temples of other gods were closed and the priesthood dispersed. However this did not last and upon his death the old gods were reinstated.

Part of the religion was the belief in life after death. In mythology, as a good pharaoh, Osiris had been murdered by his evil brother Seth. He was then avenged by his son Horus. Osiris was then brought back to life as the mummiform king of the underworld, the king of the dead. It was believed that every king would become Osiris after he died whilst his successor was the embodiment of his son Horus. Isis, the wife of Osiris, represented the devoted wife and loving mother and together, Osiris, Isis and Horus represented the family unit.

The triad of
Horus, Osiris & Isis

There were many other minor gods who were worshipped by the ordinary people in their homes. One of the most popular was Bes, an ugly dwarf god, who was regarded as the bringer of joy and protected women in child birth. The hippopotamus goddess Tauret was also protector of pregnant women as indeed were Bestet, the cat goddess, and Hathor, the cow goddess.

As religion developed over a very long period of time the old beliefs were not discarded but integrated with the new ones. The huge number of gods that resulted from this makes it virtually impossible to categorize them easily. The belief of the people in the supernatural and the way in which it was so closely interwoven into all aspects of everyday life, for them, preserved a divine order against the day to day hazards of existence.

The Myth
Of
Osiris and Isis

siris was a great god-king. During his reign the people were happy and well-fed. Osiris' brother Seth was jealous of the king's success. Seth invited Osiris to a feast, captured him, locked him in a chest and threw him in the river. Osiris' wife Isis searched and found the chest and returned it to Egypt from Phoenicia.

Osiris

This time Seth was determined not to have Osiris back. He cut his body into fourteen pieces and had them scattered far and wide. Isis did not give up. She found the parts of the body and put them back together. She then asked Anubis and Nephthys to help her. They produced the first mummy.

Isis brought up her baby, Horus, in secret. She was afraid Seth would find and murder him. When he was fully grown Horus challenged Seth and a terrible fight took place in which Seth was beaten. The gods decided that Horus should be king. He took on the powers of Osiris who then became king of paradise.

Isis

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