CHILD DEITIES, DEIFIED HUMANS ,DEMONS AND FOREIGN GODS IN ANCIENT EGYPT

CHILD DEITIES IN ANCIENT EGYPT


Child Horus standing on crocodiles

Dagmar Budde of the University of Mainz wrote: “Child deities constitute a unique class of divinities in Egyptian religion. A child deity is the child member (usually male) in a divine triad, constituting a family of father, mother, and child. The theology of child deities centered on fertility, abundance, and the legitimation of royal and hereditary succession. Child deities grew in importance in temple cult and popular worship in the first millennium B.C. and became particularly prominent in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. [Source: Dagmar Budde, University of Mainz, translated from the German by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Child deities are the child members of divine families, which usually consist of a father, mother, andson. They are represented in human form. Certain other deities occur occasionally in child-form outside family constellations; in these cases, the child imagery serves to emphasize the deity’s potential for cyclical regeneration. <>

“Child deities were depicted (in text and in visual representation) as infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents. Their birth was believed to secure legitimate royal and hereditary succession, and their subsequent thriving, to manifest a period of prosperity and well-being, in which abundance and continual renewal were guaranteed. A Roman Period ritual scene from Esna, in which the king receives the symbols of regnal years, captures these ideas in the epithets of the local child deity Heka-pa-khered (“Heka-the- child”): “The perfect youth, sweet of love, who repeats the births again and again.” Heka-pa-khered promises the king a long reign and physical regeneration. Thus, despite their child status, these deities became the object of cult, which manifested itself—no earlier than the end of the New Kingdom and particularly in the late Ptolemaic and Roman Periods—in temples dedicated to them, priesthoods, theophoric personal names, ritual and other learned texts, stelae, bronzes, terracotta figurines, scarabs, gems, and other small objects. <>

“The life-cycle of the sun god provides the basis for the concept of young deities: Ra ages into an old man by day, traverses the nightly darkness in the body of the sky goddess, and is reborn from her body as a child at dawn. Accordingly, a divine child appears sitting on the horns of the Heavenly Cow or, according to other cosmogonies, in the lotus flower. <>

“In principle, all deities that appear as, or are likened to, children can be linked with such religious imagery. For example, a text in the Roman Period mammisi at Dendara describes the small Ihi-Horus as “perfect lotus flower of gold in the morning, whose sight is as pleasing as that of Ra”. Likewise, Khnum-Ra of Elephantine is characterized in a Roman Period text as a solar child auguring fertility, at whose appearance vegetation. Daughters, unlike mothers, played no distinctive role in these conceptualizations. Even if Hathor acquired power as daughter of Ra and could be addressed as “girl” (Hwnt, sDtjt), she is not to be considered a child goddess.” <>

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Iconography of Child Deities in Ancient Egypt

Dagmar Budde of the University of Mainz wrote: “The most significant iconographic markers of child deities are the index finger held to the mouth (which Plutarch interprets as a gesture of silence) and the side lock (usually pleated into a braid) at the temple of the head. As a hieroglyphic sign, this lock represents the sound Xrd (“child,” “being young,” “to rejuvenate”), but can by association also be read as rnpj (“to regenerate”) and thus refer again to the principle of cyclical regeneration, which child deities guarantee. Further markers are nudity, possibly symbolizing renewal and fertility, and rolls of belly fat to denote abundance. The child hieroglyph, attested since the Old Kingdom, combines these markers with the seated posture. [Source: Dagmar Budde, University of Mainz, translated from the German by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]


Horus child pendant

“Various crowns identify child deities as legitimate heirs, providers of food and fertility, and cosmic deities. Most frequently occurring are the double crown, the double- feather crown, the hemhem crown, the nemes head-cloth, the atef crown, as well as sun- and moon-disk and skullcap, a uraeus often protruding from the forehead. In the Roman Period, a long, open mantle lies frequently over the shoulders. It occasionally appears to be made of feathers and covers the juvenile body only partially. Some child deities wear a heart amulet that identifies them as heirs and protects them. In their hands they hold the life sign, scepters, musical instruments, or, like human children, a lapwing. <>

“In sculpture, especially in the Greco- Egyptian terracotta figurines, appear further attributes, often adopted from the Greek cultural sphere, such as cornucopia, grapes, a vessel, or amphora. Like the texts and scenes on temple walls, the attributes of the terracotta figurines express functions and characteristics of the child deities. <>

“The child deity appears in a tremendous array of configurations and motifs, the following being particularly popular in relief and sculpture: drinking from mother’s breast and sitting on her lap ; on a lotus flower; between marsh plants; on a block throne or a lion bier; between the horns of the Heavenly Cow: 9); between a pair of snakes; on a potter’s wheel; on the emblem of Uniting the Two Lands; as restrainer of dangerous animals; in the ouroboros (“the snake that bites its tail”); in the solar disk, carried in a bark; in a bark; riding horseback; riding an elephant; in the temple. Many types and motifs are inventions of the Late and Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. With a few exceptions, they have their equivalent in the contemporary hieroglyphic repertoire.” <>

Functions and Epithets of Child Deities in Ancient Egypt

Dagmar Budde of the University of Mainz wrote: “The functions of child deities were diverse. Apart from their above-mentioned roles— modeled on solar mythology—as providers of life and food and as guarantors of fertility, eternal renewal, and the continuity of legitimate royal and hereditary succession, they also vouchsafed protection against enemies, diseases, and other dangers. They guaranteed a successful birth, regeneration, and, by extension, victory over death. Accordingly, they were popular in afterlife imagery and funerary art—in particular the image of the newborn child on the lotus flower, due to its symbolism of regeneration. They were also believed to possess wisdom and have the power of foresight, because of which they were consulted in oracular procedures. [Source: Dagmar Budde, University of Mainz, translated from the German by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]


Isis suckling Horus

“In temple cult and private devotion, child deities were a source of joy. A Roman Period text in the temple of Esna refers to Heka-pa- khered as “[one] over whom all people rejoice, when they see him; at whose sight all gods and goddesses exult”. The goddess Hathor was particularly appeased by the sight of her child Ihi playing music. <>

“Epithets bestowed on child deities describe their functions and are furthermore concerned with genealogies, cult places, and iconography. Most epithets consist of an Egyptian term for “child,” such as jnpw, jd, aDd, wnw, wDH, ms, nww/nn, nmHw, nxn, HaA, Hwn, x, Xrd, sA, sfj, sDtj, or Srj, often qualified by adjectives like Sps (“venerable”), nfr (“good, beautiful”), or wr (“great”), and followed by the name of one of the parents. The epithet formula aA wr tpj (“the great, eminent, and first one”) signals the deity’s first position in the hereditary succession. “He with the beautiful braid” refers to the deity’s iconography, while descriptions like “lord of the throne” and “lord of sustenance” refer to the divine child’s qualities as heir and food-provider, respectively. The deity’s functions in cult, particularly in appeasement rituals, are addressed in epithets like “he with sweet lips.” Such epithets are characteristic for Ihi, the musician and dancer, who is also often designated as “the great god”. For the moon child Khons-pa-khered, temple scribes composed epithets such as “who repeats the births of Horus as regenerated boy (Hwn rnp)”, while the solar child could be described poetically as the offspring of Ra, “towards whose sight all plants turn upward”. <>

“The designation pa khered (“the child”) functions as epithet, but also as component in name formations such as, for example, Horus- pa-khered, Khons-pa-khered, and Heka-pa- khered. In the case of Horus-pa-khered (“Horus-the-child”)—the mythical model and most prominent of child deities—the Egyptian name was transcribed in Greek as Harpokrates. It is important to note that this Graecized name has often been understood by modern scholars, and probably by classical authors, as a generic term for child deities. The use of the Late Egyptian definite article pA signals that the designation was coined relatively late, which demonstrates that Horus-pa-khered, like the other child deities, did not develop into an independent deity before the end of the New Kingdom.” <>

Theological Development of Child Deities in Ancient Egypt

Dagmar Budde of the University of Mainz wrote: “Already in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, Horus is described as the “young boy with his finger in his mouth”. Here the Horus child defeats the dangers posed by snakes and, in order to benefit from these protective powers in the afterlife, the deceased king identifies with him. Contemporary inscriptions mention a child god from Buto (Nb-Jmt, Jmtj), the writing of whose name includes, as a determinative the hieroglyph of the seated child wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. [Source: Dagmar Budde, University of Mainz, translated from the German by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Ihi is already mentioned in the Coffin Texts, which begin to appear at the end of the Old Kingdom. His iconography as a child holding musical instruments is first attested at Deir el-Bahri, in the reign of Queen Hatshepsut. He acquired significance at Dendara as the child of Hathor (in addition to Harsomtus-pa-khered) and, cross-regionally, as divine musician and solar child. In accordance with the Egyptian principle of duality, the notion of moon child was conceived in opposition to that of solar child; it was first associated with Khons- pa-khered. The young Heka was invoked in the Judgment after Death and became the child member in the divine triads of Memphis and especially Esna. He is occasionally depicted with the characteristics of a child on stelae of the Libyan and Kushite Periods, but it is not before the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods that he is called Heka-pa-khered in inscriptions. <>


Pantheistic Bes, god of children

“Religious texts testify that the concept of the child deity goes back as early as the Old Kingdom. Nonetheless, the worship of child deities did not become prominent in temple cult and private devotion before the Third Intermediate Period. The first developments in their theology can be observed at Thebes, where Khons in particular, but also child forms of Horus, such as Horus-pa-khered and Harpara-pa-khered, were worshipped as sons of Amun. Apart from Harpokrates, Ihi, Khons, Heka and Harpara, the following child deities are known: Harsomtus, Somtus, Horus-oudja, Horus-hekenu, Horus-Shu, Ra, Kolanthes, Neferhotep, Shemanefer, Panebtawy, Mandulis, and Tutu. In all these cases, pa-khered (“the child”) can occur as a name component. As an epithet, it is attested for Harsiese, Horus-nefer, and Neper. Ad hoc formations are Sa-menekh-pa-khered and Horakhty-pa-khered. The name component is not attested for Nefertem, the son in the divine triad of Memphis. Moreover, although Nefertem is associated with the lotus, he is never provided with the attributes of a child deity. He is therefore not to be considered a child deity. <>

“No child deity possessed an iconography unique to that deity alone, but several acquired certain specialized spheres of activity. For example, Harpara-pa-khered, as the child of Rat-tawy and either Amun or Montu, was associated with the sun, and because of his additional association with Thoth, he was, by extension, associated with wisdom as well. Horus-Shed, who is properly to be regarded as an outlier, was particularly popular as vanquisher of ailments and other dangers. In ritual scenes on temple walls, child deities appear as companions to their parents, or by themselves as recipients of offerings—especially food offerings, such as milk, as we see in a libation scene in Esna. Their complexity and popularity is underscored by the existence of groups of seven child-deities, as in the mammisi in Armant and similarly in Dendara, where seven emanations of a single deity, Ihi, occur. In the major temples, particularly in the mammisis, hymns are addressed to them. <>

“Decisive factors in the development and spread of child-deity theology may have been the pursuit of legitimacy by Egypt’s foreign rulers of the first millennium B.C., and also the hope for blessings (perhaps that of rejuvenation in particular), which private individuals projected onto them. The birth legend provided an important point of departure: whereas in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.) it was the queen who, by the god Amun, conceived the crown prince, it was, in the first millennium B.C., a goddess who gave birth to a divine child, in whom hope for an ordered cosmos and society was placed. His birth was celebrated every year in the mammisis (his identity depending on the local theology), with the local populace participating in the festivities and revelry. The texts and wall scenes in these buildings concern the modeling of the divine child on the potter’s wheel by Khnum and the young deity’s subsequent enthronement and procession, thus providing insight into the theology of conception, birth, and transfer of rule of child deities and the practices associated with their cults. Priestly titles such as “prophet of the diapers of Khons-pa- khered” and terracotta figurines showing the child deity carried on the shoulders by priests also evoke a general idea of the cultic practices performed in the sanctuaries.” <>

Deified Humans in Ancient Egypt

Alexandra von Lieven of Freie Universität Berlin wrote: “In ancient Egypt, humans were occasionally the recipients of cult as saints or even deities after their death. Such deified humans could be private persons as well as royalty, men as well as women. The cults were usually of local significance but in certain cases, they rose to national prominence. The phenomenon of human deification is well attested in ancient Egypt and appears to have become more prominent and diversified over time. There existed a hierarchy within the group of deified humans. Local patrons and “wise” scribes seem to have been favored objects of deification. Nevertheless, it remains virtually impossible in most cases to determine why one individual was deified and another was not. [Source: Alexandra von Lieven, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]


the pyramid architect Imhotep, a deified human

“The closest analogy in contemporary religions are saints. However, as ancient Egyptian religion was polytheistic, some of these persons were called “gods” or even “great gods” just like the other “real” deities. Nevertheless, there was a hierarchy within the group of deified humans. In some cases, it is quite evident that individuals rose within the hierarchy with the elapse of time after their death. At the beginning, the particular individual only received a slightly more elevated rank than the normal dead. In the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.), such persons were called Ax jqr n Ra, “efficient spirit of Ra”. In the Late Period (712–332 B.C.), they were called Hrj, “superior,” or Hsj, “praised one”. These terms already seem to convey a notion of sainthood. In many cases, the cult never evolved further. However, in more than a few cases it did. The saint developed into a lesser category of god, who was venerated as a local patron. These cults are usually very much connected to a single village or region. More rarely, they developed even further to supraregional and even national scope. The latter was only possible with royal patronage, while the smaller cults seldom attracted any royal attention. The most prominent of these deified persons, who in the end was considered almost on a par with the real gods, was Imhotep— coincidentally, historically the oldest example. <>

“With this hierarchical development, the historical evolution of deification itself somehow correlates. True deification is first attested in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), with Heqaib of Elephantine as prominent examples. While, for example, Isi is called nTr anx, “living god,” it seems that there was still some reluctance to call non-royal deified persons nTr aA, “great god.” Later, however, there is no clearly established hierarchical differentiation in terminology. Thus a Hsj can at the same time be called a nTr aA. <>

“Deification becomes more and more widespread until in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods nearly every village seems to have had its deified human (or several of them). In this period, it is not unusual to call a deified human nTr aA or in Greek theos megistos. Therefore, it has been proposed that deification of humans increased in later periods. The phenomenon has been compared to the increase in animal cults. <>

“In fact, the indigenous terminology shows a clear development. However, there is a certain danger that the seeming dramatic increase in importance and number is somewhat misleading. This is due to the type of sources, which typically survive in larger quantities from the later periods. Unless a cult secured royal patronage, impressive stone monuments are not to be expected. Most temples and shrines of deified humans consisted only of mud-bricks and did not survive into the present. A relatively well-preserved example is the temple of Piyris in Ain Labakha from the Roman Period. Most temples are only attested textually. Again, the textual sources are often not religious documents but administrative texts like inventories of temples or sale contracts of land plots, which mention a temple to pinpoint the location of the sold plot in relation to its neighboring plots. <>

“In one way or another, the Egyptian cults of deified humans may have influenced subsequent ideas of and practices related to Coptic Christian saints and later Muslim sheiks in Egypt. Even relic veneration seems to have occasionally been part of such cults at least in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.” <>

Human Deity Cults in Ancient Egypt

Alexandra von Lieven of Freie Universität Berlin wrote: “Another major source for deified humans is onomastics. Many such cults can only be deduced from theophoric personal names where the theophoric element is again a proper personal name. The careful study of all the sources suggests that also in the earlier periods, deification of persons was much more widespread than hitherto known. [Source: Alexandra von Lieven, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“While often being inconspicuous in the preserved records, these cults were nevertheless of major social importance and appeal to the respective local population. Deified humans had their own rituals and feasts like other gods and provided help in everyday affairs of their adherents. There is, for example, evidence for processional feasts with barks and palanquins from the New Kingdom. Such processions must have been an important setting for oracles, one of the main functions of deified humans. They decided, for instance, who had stolen a chisel, who rightfully possessed a tomb, or whether a mummification had been performed correctly. They were also called upon to heal and provide children. In the case of Amenhotep I, a sort of mystery play seems to have been celebrated possibly focusing on his death during the feast Preparing the Bed for Amenhotep in the New Kingdom. A list of feast data related to incidents in the life and around the death of Imhotep is attested from the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.). The reference to beds in a temple inventory in connection with another deified figure speaks in favor of a more widespread prominence of such rites. Equally widespread seems to have been the custom to light torches or lamps in front of a deified person, i.e., his or her statue. A fragmentary calendar from Elephantine gives the dates for “the days of illumination in front of Osiris (of) Nespameti” , archaeological evidence comes from the temple of Piyris in Ain Labakha. <>

“Statues of deified humans as well as two- dimensional representations can show them either as normal human beings, a good example being the statues of Satabous and Tesenouphis from the Fayum, or with special regalia demonstrating their divine status, for example, the depictions of Petese and Pihor of Dendur in their temple. A third possibility is the depiction of a deified human as another normal deity. This is an iconographic expression of a theological construct clearly attested in a few cases and quite probable in a few others. A good example of this tendency to identify a local deified human with a deity from the established pantheon is the god’s wife of Neferhotep Wedjarenes. Textually well-dated, it is possible to understand how she evolved from a local saint to a hypostasis of Isis within barely 150 years. One might see in such identifications the absorption of the Little Traditions by the Great Tradition.” <>

“While often being inconspicuous in the preserved records, these cults were nevertheless of major social importance and appeal to the respective local population. Deified humans had their own rituals and feasts like other gods and provided help in everyday affairs of their adherents. There is, for example, evidence for processional feasts with barks and palanquins from the New Kingdom. Such processions must have been an important setting for oracles, one of the main functions of deified humans. They decided, for instance, who had stolen a chisel, who rightfully possessed a tomb, or whether a mummification had been performed correctly. They were also called upon to heal and provide children. In the case of Amenhotep I, a sort of mystery play seems to have been celebrated possibly focusing on his death during the feast Preparing the Bed for Amenhotep in the New Kingdom. A list of feast data related to incidents in the life and around the death of Imhotep is attested from the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.). The reference to beds in a temple inventory in connection with another deified figure speaks in favor of a more widespread prominence of such rites. Equally widespread seems to have been the custom to light torches or lamps in front of a deified person, i.e., his or her statue. A fragmentary calendar from Elephantine gives the dates for “the days of illumination in front of Osiris (of) Nespameti” , archaeological evidence comes from the temple of Piyris in Ain Labakha. <>

“Statues of deified humans as well as two- dimensional representations can show them either as normal human beings, a good example being the statues of Satabous and Tesenouphis from the Fayum, or with special regalia demonstrating their divine status, for example, the depictions of Petese and Pihor of Dendur in their temple. A third possibility is the depiction of a deified human as another normal deity. This is an iconographic expression of a theological construct clearly attested in a few cases and quite probable in a few others. A good example of this tendency to identify a local deified human with a deity from the established pantheon is the god’s wife of Neferhotep Wedjarenes. Textually well-dated, it is possible to understand how she evolved from a local saint to a hypostasis of Isis within barely 150 years. One might see in such identifications the absorption of the Little Traditions by the Great Tradition.” <>


Amenhotep I, a deified human


Who Became Deified Humans in Ancient Egypt and Why

Alexandra von Lieven of Freie Universität Berlin wrote: “A major question is who was deified by whom and why. At least in the earlier periods, it seems that the deification of a person was a grassroots movement with no higher central authority regulating the process. However, in the Ptolemaic Period, a decree by Ptolemy VIII specifies that deified humans were to be buried at the cost of the state treasury. This implies certain rules according to which one could be sanctified. [Source: Alexandra von Lieven, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“As to the types of persons concerned and the reasons for their deification, there is a major problem. Of many of the attested deified persons nothing or at least not enough is known about them as individuals. Furthermore, only one text ever gives an explicit reason for the deification, thus one can only speculate. Interestingly, the text in question, a hymn to Pramarres inscribed on a temple door in Medinet Madi, is written in Greek. One of the reasons given is Pramarres’ ability to talk to animals. Clearly, this is not something one would have expected. It must be a reference to a historical romance like those well attested in Demotic from contemporary temple libraries from Tebtunis and Soknopaiou Nesos, respectively. <>

“At least for the social groups concerned, it is possible to give some rough indications. Apart from royalty, they were typically wise people, for example, authors of wisdom literature and the like or local leaders like nomarchs. The special deification of individual kings and queens like Amenhotep I and Ahmose- Nefertari is not to be confused with the general idea of a semi-divine status of the king or his ka as part of the royal ideology. <>

“Finally, persons who died a special death by “divine agency,” for example, by drowning or being killed by a snake or crocodile, could also be deified. The latter category is the one labeled “praised ones” (Hsj.w) by the Egyptians themselves. It seems that death by a divine creature like a crocodile was regarded as a special grace. In that respect, the cult of Antinoos was not an anomaly, but indeed keeping within Egyptian tradition. <>

“Apart from a few rare royal cases of self- deification during lifetime, deification is usually conferred only as a posthumous honor. While the majority of deified humans are men, a certain number of women, both royal as well as private persons, are attested. In a few exceptional cases, even small children seem to have been deified, for example, the New Kingdom prince Ahmose Sapair, or possibly also Nespameti from Elephantine, who is labeled “the child born in Elephantine” in Papyrus Dodgson. However, in the latter case, it is not exactly clear whether this really indicates death as a child or just local derivation. <>

“At any rate, deified humans were often provided with divine parents. For example, Imhotep and his sister Renpetneferet were regarded as children of Ptah; Amenhotep I was a son of Amun and Mut, Amaunet, or his earthly, but similarly deified mother Ahmose-Nefertari, respectively; Nespameti was considered a son of Khnum and Satet. In that respect, even an adult like Amenhotep I could be represented as a small child in relation to his divine parents.” <>

Demons in Ancient Egypt


ram-headed demon

Demons in ancient Egypt could be both malevolent and benevolent. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: They “were more powerful than human beings but not as powerful as gods. They were usually immortal, could be in more than one place at a time, and could affect the world as well as people in supernatural ways. But there were certain limits to their powers and they were neither all-powerful nor all knowing. Among demons the most important figure was Ammut – the Devourer of the Dead – part crocodile, part lioness, and part hippopotamus. She was often shown near the scales on which the hearts of the dead were weighed against the feather of Truth. She devoured the hearts of those whose wicked deeds in life made them unfit to enter the afterlife. Apepi, another important demon, (sometimes called Apophis) was the enemy of the sun god in his daily cycle through the cosmos, and is depicted as a colossal snake. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Rita Lucarelli of the University of Bonn wrote: “Of all Egyptian religious concepts, the notion of “demon” has always been one of the most difficult to interpret for modern scholars. The first difficulty lies in the fact that Egyptian terminology and iconography usually do not distinguish ontologically between demon and deity. In fact, no ancient Egyptian term exists that would translate into “demon” and mark an obvious distinction between deity (nTr) and demon. Nonetheless, the scribal habit to often write the names of inimical beings in red ink and to add the evil or slain enemy determinative to their name shows that Egyptians recognized “malevolent demon” as an ontological category in its own right. It is only by comparing demons and deities with respect to their function, appearance, and status in the created world that we can come to an appreciation of demons in ancient Egyptian thought.” [Source: Rita Lucarelli, University of Bonn, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“According to ancient Egyptian belief, the created world was populated by humans, spirits of deceased humans, deities, and a host of supernatural beings whose identities were never precisely defined. The Egyptian language refers to the first three categories as, respectively, rmT, Ax or mwt, and nTr, but lacks a proper term for the fourth class...Instead of defining “demons” as a uniform group, the Egyptians gave specific names and occasionally physical attributes to its individual classes and members. These names and associated iconography do not so much characterize what these demons are as identify what they do. From the perspective of humans, their behavior can be benevolent and malevolent. Two main classes of demons can be recognized: wanderers and guardians. Wandering demons travel between this world and the beyond acting as emissaries for deities or on their own accord. They can bring diseases, nightly terrors, and misfortune and are therefore basically malevolent. Guardian demons are tied to a specific locality, either in the beyond or on earth, and protect their locality from intrusion and pollution; as such, their function is rather benevolent. In the Late andPtolemaic and Roman Periods, they came to be regarded as deities in their own right and received cult.” <>

Demons, Deities and Spirits in Ancient Egypt


genie of the Nile flood

Rita Lucarelli of the University of Bonn wrote: “The main difference between demon and deity seems to be that demons received no cult, at least until the New Kingdom. Within the hierarchy of supernatural beings, demons are subordinate to the gods; although they posses special powers, these powers are not universal but rather limited in nature and scope. In general, their influence is circumscribed to one single task, and in certain cases they act under the command of a deity. The available sources do not elaborate on the origin of demons; nor are they explicitly mentioned in creation accounts. However, as they often act as emissaries of deities and are subjected to their will, we may deduce that demons are a creation of the gods. This hypothesis may find support in a formulation in one of the Oracular Amuletic Decrees, referring to protection against certain malevolent “gods who make a wrt- demon against a man”. [Source: Rita Lucarelli, University of Bonn, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“To be distinguished from demons are the roaming dead (mwt) and disembodied spirits (Ax). Although occasionally showing a demonic nature, they are the manifestations of deceased humans in the netherworld. They acquired their supernatural status only after a metaphysical transformation generated by death and ritual. While mwt beings are always malevolent, Ax spirits can be either benevolent or malevolent. Demons, however, are entities in their own right. Nevertheless, demons and spirits of the dead are often listed together in apotropaic spells, because both can be hostile to humans. <>

“Common understanding of the notion of demon, following the Christian reception of the Greek term daimôn in Late Antiquity, sees evil as the main essence of demonic entities as opposed to the notion of angels. Ancient Egyptian religion also relates the existence of demons to “evil”, which is believed to be the realm of chaos outside the created world. However, although this negative connotation cannot be denied in light of the magical texts, the role of demons vis-à-vis the human world remains ambivalent and dependent on their specific context of appearance. In general, it can be stated that demons always act on the borders between order and chaos, maat and isfet. Therefore, in order to define the ancient Egyptian conception of demons, we may call them “religious frontier-striders”, in reference to the apt German term Grenzgängerkonzepte . Some demons bring chaos into the ordered world or act upon the world of the living by command of the divine (e.g., the “wanderers”), whereas others mediate between order and chaos or the sacred and the profane by protecting liminal and sacred places on earth and in the netherworld from impurity (e.g., the “guardians”). In this sense, the Platonic definition of daimôn as an “intermediate being” between gods and mortals also fits the overall picture.” <>

Types of Demons in Ancient Egypt

Rita Lucarelli of the University of Bonn wrote: “As regards their origin, locality, and forms of appearance, their multifaceted character and the general lack of uniform descriptions in the sources make it impossible to identify a single ontological category of demon. On the basis of nature and location, we can recognize two main classes of demons, which have similar appearance and behavior towards humans: the wanderers and the guardians.[Source: Rita Lucarelli, University of Bonn, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Demons can manifest themselves and act as a single individual but also appear in pairs, in threes, or in a gang. A main distinction exists between demons traveling between the earth and the beyond, so-called “wanderers”, and those that are tied to, and watch over, a place, namely “guardians”. <>

“Among the wanderers we find many gangs, often of unspecified number, which are controlled by major deities such as Ra and Osiris and act as the executioner of their divine will. They can be agents of punishment on earth and in the netherworld, like the wpwtjw, “the messengers”, which are mentioned in magical and ritual texts from the Middle Kingdom through the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. In other cases, they cause ineluctable misfortune to humans without orders from the gods. As such they are agents of chaos that persists outside the order of the creation. <>

“The evil influence of the wanderers can be warded off and kept at the borders of the human world by means of magic. However, it can never be fully destroyed. How exactly their nature was understood remains difficult to establish: they are divine emissaries but occasionally also act independently from the divine will. Moreover, it cannot be stated that these demons are truly subordinate to the gods, since as divine messengers they gain the authority of their senders. In fact, gods can also act as intermediaries or messengers of other deities, for example, Thoth and Hathor, who occasionally serve as messengers of Ra.” <>

“Guardians represent the second class of demons. Their demonic activity is topographically defined, and their function can be rather benevolent towards those who have the secret knowledge of their names and know how to face them. They are usually attached to a specific place, where their power is truly effective, as, for example, the wrt-demons mentioned in the so-called Oracular Amuletic Decrees of the late 21st Dynasty and later attested in Demotic texts as wry—although in this later form the only reference to a specific place is related to an astrological house. The wrt- demons are often connected to a natural place, which they inhabit, like a pool, a river, a mountain, etc., and from where they assault the passerby. Demons that can be defined by location have also been recognized in other systems of belief, among others in the Hellenistic world. <>

“The generally aggressive nature of the guardian demons is motivated by the need to protect their abode and is therefore sensible in some measure; as such, they are fundamentally different from disease demons, who invade the human body and other places they do not belong to. They abound in the beyond as guardians of gates and regions of the realm of the dead. They are described and depicted in detail in the spells 144 to 147 of the Book of the Dead and in the netherworld books. The dreadful nature of the guardian demons makes them also suitable for protecting sacred places; accordingly, they took on the role of temple genii in the Late and Ptolemaic Periods. The common Egyptological interpretation of demons as minor deities derives from these protective figures, which are often depicted with an animal head on an anthropomorphic or mummified body and holding knives or other weapons in their hands.” <>


Diety slaying the demon Apep


Roles, Influences and Manifestations of Demons in Ancient Egypt

Rita Lucarelli of the University of Bonn wrote: “Gods and demons alike, when playing the role of messengers, act with a single, precise aim, which can be directed against humankind. Besides wpwtjw, other gangs of wandering demons acting as divine emissaries are the xAtjw, “the slaughterers”, and the SmAjw, “the wanderers”, attested as early as the Old Kingdom until the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. They are sent as death- and plague-carriers by furious goddesses like Sakhmet and Bastet. At the end of the year, during the epagomenal days, their influence was considered especially strong on earth, as attested in the Calendars of Good and Bad Days. Starting in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.), but especially in the temple texts of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, xAtjw can also be manifestations of the dead decans , whose stars were also seen as disease-bringers. In the Late Period and Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, astrology gained prominence in ancient Egyptian religious thought, and, as a result, certain stars were demonized. For instance, certain astral bodies of the northern constellations, depicted on the astronomical ceilings of temples and tombs, find correspondences in the representations of the demonic inhabitants of the so-called “mounds (jAwt) of the netherworld” described in Spell 149 of the Book of the Dead. [Source: Rita Lucarelli, University of Bonn, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Wandering demons were also considered the cause of certain internal and mental diseases or symptoms, whose pathology was not understood; accordingly, many are mentioned in the magico-medical texts of the Middle Kingdom and later. Among others, the demon Sehaqeq (shAqq) is seen as the cause of headache; he appears in a few Ramesside spells from Deir el-Medina and is once depicted as a young man covering his face. The nsj-demon and his female counterpart nsjt can affect various body parts and even bring death. <>

“Nightmares (literally rswt Dwt, “bad dreams”) were also understood as caused by demons. Like the disease demons, nightmare demons were believed to enter a human body from the outside and are as such a sub-category of wandering demons. They are said to “descend upon a man in the night”; in this sense, they can be considered the Egyptian equivalent of the Medieval incubi and succubi, although the characterization of sexual assault associated with the latter is not explicit in the Egyptian spells. Depictions of these roaming spirits are nonexistent except for the sketch of the headache demon Sehaqeq mentioned above. Occasionally, spells allude to their evil glance and warn them to turn their face backwards. <>

“Demonic possession did not only occur during sleep at night; demons could attack or enter the human body also by day when the unlucky passerby approached their abode. Wandering demons also entered and haunted houses, as is evident in a list of the parts of a house to be defended against malevolent influences in a New Kingdom magical spell. They could also move between the earth and the beyond. In the beyond, when acting as guardians of the regions or gates of the netherworld, they could be benevolent towards the deceased, provided the latter possessed the magic to face them. On earth, their actions were mostly malevolent and connected to accidents and plagues—wreaking havoc without distinguishing among the virtuous and wicked. <>

“In sources dating to the Late Period (712–332 B.C.), and even more so in sources from the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, we notice an increased tendency to interpret daily life accidents and misfortune as resulting from demonic influence. Consequently, to appease them, demons started to receive local and private cults, as did Great-of-Strength (aA pHtj), the first of the seven demons controlled by the god Tutu. Similarly, the xAtjw-demons seem to have received a cult in Ptolemaic Thebes ; they even feature in Demotic personal names with protective and apotropaic meaning. Conversely, certain gods are demonized as they absorb the essence of the creatures they control, like the sphinx god Tutu, who bears the epithet of “master of demons”. <>

“Much later, in a corpus of Coptic magical spells, we find mention of a real demonic pantheon, consisting especially of demons of the underworld. They are invoked to harm personal enemies. Their punitive function and their specific tasks may well be reminiscent of the demons of Pharaonic times, who were sent to earth from the beyond and belonged to a peripheral world outside creation.” <>


Nectanebo making offerings to demons


What Ancient Egyptian Demons Looked Like

Rita Lucarelli of the University of Bonn wrote: “The guardians of the netherworld are often provided with an iconography. The other categories of demons, like the already mentioned wrt, are never depicted or physically described. The demonic guardians, on the other hand, are described in much detail and precision, because the deceased must be able to recognize them and know their name in order to overcome their aggression. [Source: Rita Lucarelli, University of Bonn, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Guardian demons have a hybrid human- animal appearance as in other ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia and Greece). In ancient Egypt, the theriomorphic traits of supernatural beings recall their wildest and most fearful aspects, stressing their “otherness” in contrast to the anthropomorphic forms, which denote humanization and membership of the civilized world. Animals often included in the composite bodies of demons are reptiles (especially snakes), felines, and canids; other mammals (donkeys, baboons, hippos, goats, bulls), insects, scorpions, and birds (falcons, vultures) can also be part of a demonic or divine body. This iconography does in essence not differ from the way deities are depicted in their animal and hybrid forms. The similarity is especially striking in the case of apotropaic entities that fight malevolent forces, for example, those represented on the so-called magic wands. <>

“More typical of demonic iconography are fantastic animals. Sometimes they also show monstrous and grotesque iconographies combining two or more animals or animals and humans into one body. The most popular example is that of Ammut, “the devourer of the dead”, of Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead, who has a crocodile head, a leonine body, and the hindquarters of a hippo. It is indeed in the netherworld that the creativity of the ancient Egyptian theologians in regard to the iconography of demonic beings reached its peak. Especially abundant in the funerary compositions are composite figures of demonic snakes with anthropomorphic legs, multiple heads, and wings, which serve as benevolent and malevolent guardians, like Nehebkau and Rerek. The gigantic python Apep is their archetypal model; however, because of his central and unique role as cosmic enemy of the sun god, Apep stands outside of the categories of gods and demons. <>

“In the case of gods, hybrid and grotesque iconography symbolizes efficacious apotropaic qualities, as in the case of Bes, the hippo goddesses Ipet and Taweret, and the sphinx god Tutu. This sort of evidence can be compared to the worldwide religious symbolism according to which supernatural beings who were able to transform into animals, like the werewolves and vampires of the Western folklore, were considered “border crossers” and therefore menacing entities for humankind. <>

“Besides fantastic and composite creatures, the netherworld was also the abode of animals who were considered dangerous (reptiles, insects) or impure on earth (pig, donkey). These belonged conceptually to the manifestation sphere of potentially destructive gods like Seth. A group of spells in the Pyramid Texts aims at warding off snakes, which could be considered enemies of the sun god. Similar spells occur in the Coffin Texts; spells 31 to 42 of the Book of the Dead are devoted to repelling dangerous and impure animals, including snakes. Magical and ritual objects and statues show demonic animals being submitted and controlled by anthropomorphic deities in a protective role; the most wide-spread examples are the New Kingdom ex-votos devoted to Horus-Shed and their later derivation, the Horus-stelae and healing statues, which represent deities that subject a host of dangerous animals. The subordinate role that theriomorphic demons play versus anthropomorphic deities or major humanized demons finds correspondences in other religious traditions, as in the iconography of the Mesopotamian demonic goddess Lamashtu, “mistress of animals”, who is often depicted while holding snakes in her hands and with a scorpion between her legs.” <>

Male and Female Ancient Egyptian Demons


cat killing Apep

Rita Lucarelli of the University of Bonn wrote: “Most demonic beings are male; female demons occur only rarely in the sources. In general, gender does not give information about the behavior and function of demons, but a few remarks can be made in relation to female demons. They are generally hybrid or animal in form, such as the already mentioned Ammut and the Two Meret snakes, which are the demonic forms of two goddesses mentioned in the Coffin Texts and Spell 37 of the Book of the Dead. An epithet that may refer specifically to female demons is the above mentioned wrt of the Oracular Amuletic Decrees. Although the etymology and precise meaning of the term is unclear, it is remarkable that the same form occurs in combination with the definite article in the phrase tA-wrt, “The Great One”, which is the name for the hippo goddess Taweret and also an epithet for goddesses like Sakhmet or Isis, especially in the Late Period and later. This evidence would confirm the female nature of the wrt-demons and also suggest that the demonic epithet originated from a euphemistic use of the divine one. [Source: Rita Lucarelli, University of Bonn, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“In the Oracular Amuletic Decrees as well as in other apotropaic spells, demonic beings are listed in pairs of male and female as Ax and Axt (“male and female spirit of a deceased”), mwt and mwtt (“male and female dead”), or DAy and DAyt (“male and female opponent”). However, instead of signaling the significance and uniqueness of female demons, such lists are in fact standard formulae that aim to capture the totality of possible dangers and do not really stress the gender issue. Occasionally, spells include the names of the father and mother of a demon, as, for example, the headache demon Sehaqeq, whose parents have names of foreign origin. This suggests that kinship could serve as a classification system for demons; in this respect, Egypt differs from Mesopotamia, where demons are said to have no gender and no families. <>

“In general, gender does not seem to be relevant with respect to the role demons play on earth and in the netherworld. Perhaps the rare appearance of female demons may reflect the idea that the dynamic, active power of demons is a typically male characteristic. Be this as it may, it must be kept in mind that most gangs of demons were controlled by angry goddesses like Sakhmet or Bastet, who incarnate the power and wild aspect of femininity. Magical texts also mention demons hiding themselves in females, for instance, in an Asiatic woman in the Spell for Mother and Child or in a “dead female who robs as a wailing woman” in a Ramesside spell for protecting different parts of the body.” <>

Attendant Divinities in Ancient Egypt

On domestic attendant divinities,Anna Stevens of Cambridge University wrote: “There arose, from at least the Middle Kingdom, a set of attendant divinities who specialized in the concerns of everyday life: Bes, Taweret, Hathor in her role especially as fertility goddess, and a range of minor protective spirits, as found on the “magic” wands and rods. Though sometimes regarded as peripheral and “popular,” these deities and demons were worshiped and supplicated by individuals of all social classes over most periods of Egyptian history. The Bes images and Taweret figures that appear within New Kingdom palace decoration probably reflect the participation of royalty. The spread of material relating to domestic deities across houses of varying sizes at el-Amarna supports its use across a broad range of socio-economic spectra. [Source: Anna Stevens, Amarna Project, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, escholarship.org <>]

“Local divinities were also worshiped in and around the house. Deir el-Medina, in particular, offers abundant evidence of this. The cobra goddess Meretseger was especially popular here, worshiped not only in houses but also in nearby chapels, some on and around the mountain overlooking the Valley of the Kings. Also attested in Deir el-Medina households are Hathor, Ptah, Amun, and Anukis, and local ancestors. In the Ramesside Period, personal experiences of deities, in addition to their supplication in problem-solving, seem to have found prominent expression here in household settings. It is tempting to read the occasional appearance of divinities such as Amun and Ptah within the slightly earlier New Kingdom assemblage at el-Amarna, and the apparent absence of similar figures among Middle Kingdom settlement material, as stages in the gradual growth of personal relationships with state and local deities. It may be, of course, that in these periods expressions of such relationships were embedded in words and actions that only found articulation—material or written—later in history.” <>

Foreign Deities in Egypt

Christiane Zivie-Coche of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris wrote: “The presence of foreign deities in the Egyptian pantheon must be studied in the light of the openness of Egyptian polytheism and as a reflection on cultural identity. Even if Egyptian self-identity was defined as intrinsically opposed to the Other, i.e. the foreigner, Egypt always maintained contact with its neighbors, particularly Nubia and the Near East. These intercultural contacts had an effect on the religion. Since the earliest times, deities like Dedoun, Ha, or Sopdu formed an integral part of the Egyptian pantheon, so much so that their likely foreign origin is not immediately perceptible. Particularly important is the introduction of a series of Near Eastern deities into the established pantheon at the beginning of the New Kingdom, under the reign of Amenhotep II. Receiving cult from both the state and private individuals, these deities were worshiped under their foreign name while depicted in Egyptian fashion. Their principal function was providing protection. It is the very nature of Egyptian polytheism that allowed for foreign divinities to acquire the same status as the indigenous gods. [Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, translated from French by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]


Egyptian seal impression with the Persian winged god Ahuramadza

“One could qualify a deity as foreign to the Egyptian pantheon when it has a well-established, non-native origin and is known to have been introduced into Egypt at a specific point in time. Deities that were always associated with Egypt’s frontier zones and formed part of the Egyptian pantheon since the earliest times are not considered foreign. Such deities are the Nubian Dedoun attested since the Pyramid Texts; Ha, god of the West, who is likely Libyan in origin; and also Sopdu, Lord of the East and the eastern borders, whose symbol spd, which serves to write his name in hieroglyphs, bears a resemblance to the Near Eastern betyles or sacred stones. There were also deities of truly Egyptian origin that held power over these marginal regions. Min of Coptos was the Lord of the Eastern Desert and Hathor, besides being a goddess of love and sexual desire, was very much an itinerant deity, honored at the mining sites in the Sinai and Byblos in the Lebanon. This state of affairs reveals, even without considering the principles of interculturality, that Egypt was not the self-contained and closed-off country some scholars make it to be.

“The border crosser par excellence was Seth, who embodies this role in all his ambiguity, being the protector of the sun god in the solar bark, the murderer of his brother Osiris, and the god of the deserts, disturbing and threatening—a trickster. His Otherness led to assimilation with the Near Eastern deity Ba’al in the New Kingdom. At the end of the Third Intermediate Period or the beginning of the Late Period, his “demonization” led to almost complete exclusion from the Egyptian pantheon, when he was regarded solely in his role as fearful enemy of Osiris, and even more so of Egypt as a unified state and society through his identification with foreigners in general. The dangerous Other was thus not necessarily located outside the group of Egypt’s familiar deities, but could be found in their very midst. <>

“Contacts with foreign cultures, however well established, did not necessarily lead to the introduction of foreign deities on Egyptian soil. The most striking example is that of the Libyan immigration, which eventually brought the 22nd and 23rd Dynasties to power. These kings were descendants of families coming from the west, and later the “great chiefs” of the Ma or the Libou, who governed principalities of different size after the disintegration of Pharaonic rule in the first quarter of the first millennium B.C.. Even if contemporary proper names attest to the popularity of theophoric names composed with, for example, the name of the Libyan goddess Shehededet, no trace of a cult for this deity has been recovered. In fact, the Libyans seem to have had no influence on Egyptian religious practices; on the contrary, they adopted them. The same applies to the Kushite Dynasty and the Persian invaders. They both showed great piety toward the Egyptian deities, with the exception of the Second Persian Domination (343 - 332 B.C.), and did not “import” their own gods. The Ptolemaic and Roman Periods witnessed the creation of a deity of Egyptian origin represented in Greek style, Serapis, a combination of Osiris with Apis. Traditional Egyptian deities could thus undergo the effects of acculturation under the influence of foreign domination, in particular on the level of iconography. Other examples are Harpocrates (Horus the Child) and Isis, who, as terracotta figurines, are always represented in Greek style. <>

“The deities that can truly be considered foreign in the Egyptian pantheon are primarily deities of Near Eastern, west-Semitic origin, most notably Reshep, Hauron, Ba’al, Astarte, Anat, Qadesh, and a few others. They were introduced in the New Kingdom, more precisely in the reign of Amenhotep II, with the exception of Anat who did not appear, according to the documents at our disposal, before the reign of Ramesses II. Despite historical changes, they remained in the Egyptian pantheon up into the Roman Period.” <>

Historical and Cultural Context of Foreign Deities in Egypt

Christiane Zivie-Coche of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes wrote: “During the periods preceding the New Kingdom, interaction with people from the Near East was mainly with those who had settled more or less permanently in Egypt, primarily in the north of the country. The most significant episode was that of the Hyksos, “rulers of foreign lands,” who, for about one century, ruled in the Delta with Avaris (Tell el-Dabaa) as their capital. Excavations at the site have revealed obvious Near Eastern cultural influences, particularly in the funerary domain. As regards cult, however, there is no evidence to affirm, as certain scholars do, that the Near Eastern Ba’al or Anat received cult there. The epigraphic documents, few in number, mention Seth but never Ba’al, whereas Anat occurs only once as a component in a theophoric name . One can only conclude that Seth was the principle deity, if not the sole one, adopted by the Hyksos. [Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, translated from French by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]

“After the reconquest of the territory and the installation of the 18th Dynasty, Egypt rapidly opened up to the Near East, the Mediterranean coast, Ugarit, and Mitanni; this was at first achieved primarily through military conquest and subsequent subjugation of the Near East to Egypt, but eventually also through marriage alliances with the Mitanni and the Hittites, as well as economic and linguistic exchange. As much as the Egyptians erected cult places for their own deities in the foreign cities they dominated, most likely to serve soldiers stationed in these posts or functionaries on mission, they also brought back deities encountered abroad. These new cults installed at several locations in Egypt have often been taken as initiatives of foreigners—prisoners of war serving in the estates of temple or king, who continued their own cults. <>

“The available documentation indicates otherwise. The first mentions of Reshep, Hauron, and Astarte occur in royal documents dating to the beginning of the reign of Amenhotep II (1425 - 1399 B.C.): the Victory Stela of Memphis, a rock stela of year 4 in a quarry at Tura, the Sphinx Stela at Giza from the beginning of his reign, foundation plaques of the chapel of Harmachis at Giza, and the so-called Astarte Papyrus mentioning his regnal year 5. As for Qadesh, the earliest attestation dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (1389 - 1349 B.C.) occurring on a statue of Ptahankh, an associate of the high priesthood of Ptah. All these documents share another particularity: they come from Memphis and make frequent allusions to Peru-nefer, the port of Memphis with an important military and economic function. Peru-nefer had a pantheon that was quite unique, comprising the majority of known foreign gods under the aegis of Amun “Lord of Peru-nefer,” whose membership has recently been established. Far from signaling the presence of foreigners, these documents translate an all too clear willingness, political and religious, on the part of the state to put new cults in place. If this were not the case, how can the presence of foreign deities on royal monuments be explained? The same maneuver can be seen in the 19th Dynasty, when Ramesses II (1290 - 1224 B.C.) declares himself protected and beloved by the goddess Anat and lets himself be represented at her side in two monumental dyads, or even figures as a child underneath the throat of the Hauron-falcon—all statues erected at Pi-Ramesses. The same pharaoh erected a stela commemorating the 400th year of rule of Seth depicted as Ba’al. Once officially adopted, these deities became widespread in Egypt, occasionally as far south as Nubia.” <>

“Deities of the ancient Near East were thus introduced through official channels into the Egyptian pantheon from the 18th Dynasty onwards, which is not so surprising given the close relations between centralized government and religion in ancient Egypt. The question remains, though, if there is a clear answer to why these deities were adopted, enabling them eventually to play a role in all domains of Egyptian religion. Theologically, nothing prevented the presence of foreign deities in the Egyptian pantheon. After a period of occupation followed by reconquest of its territory, Egypt affirmed its supremacy over its neighbors, while appropriating some of their practices and technical innovations, thus showing a certain degree of permeability to other cultures. In this process, foreign deities, at least some of them, were able to be “imported” into Egypt’s imaginary world. They represented an additional, new, and beneficial force, which could be claimed by the king and, following his example, by priests and private individuals alike, either in an official setting or as refuge in private life. The validity of Egyptian religion was neither measured by the rejection of deities of other peoples nor by the denial of their existence and veracity. On the contrary, the principle of polytheism allowed for integrating new deities without challenging its conception of the world of the divine, but instead enriching and diversifying it.” <>

Polytheism, Otherness and Foreign Deities in Egypt


Nubian statue

Christiane Zivie-Coche wrote: “Like so many other traditional societies, Egypt defined itself ethnocentrically as the center and origin of civilization. Egyptians are “humans” (rmT), whereas foreigners are called by their ethnic name. The foreigner is the Other; a being that does not speak Egyptian and is a source of danger and disorder. This explains the innumerable representations, from the Old Kingdom up into the Roman Period, that depict the king holding several foreign enemies by their hair, ready to sever their heads. If only symbolic in meaning, this violent image lays bare how the Other is viewed in Pharaonic ideology. The cosmic, political, and social order, embodied in Maat and upheld by the king, is perpetually menaced by the Other. This Other can be an earthly enemy, like a foreigner, but also a divine enemy, like Apep, the snake that each day threatens the journey of the bark of Ra along the sky and through the duat. This fragile equilibrium can only be maintained by the daily performance of rituals. [Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, translated from French by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]

“In contrast with this ideology, there was a practical reality, which, since the earliest times, encouraged Egyptians to interact with foreigners, and not only in a military context, to learn foreign languages and to use translators, and to increase foreign trade. This opening up to the world eventually led to changes in religious beliefs. Hymns written during the New Kingdom evoke the demiurge as creator of all peoples, distinguished by the color of their skin and speaking in different tongues since the time of creation (Great Aten Hymn). The cosmographic books, found in the royal tombs of the New Kingdom, depict the four races—Egyptian, Nubian, Libyan, and Asiatic—as participating in the afterlife in the Egyptian duat (Book of Gates, 5th hour). The demiurge is now recognized, in a non-theoretical way, as the creator of all humanity. <>

“What is the status of foreign deities in such a worldview? The existence of foreign gods or the gods of foreigners, despite evident ethnocentric tendencies, could easily be accepted into the framework and worldview of Egyptian religion, because it is polytheistic. Egyptian polytheism accepts every other deity, every new deity, as such, based as it is on the principle of plurality of divine beings, forms, and names. Not based on the principles of truth and exclusion, the existence of no deity can be refuted on the ground of falsity. This is not a matter of what one calls today religious tolerance, but a fundamentally different concept of the divine, which allows for the addition, if the need is felt, of a new deity in a long-established pantheon—irrespective of the deity’s origin, as it is of the same nature as those deities with which it will be integrated.” <>

Names and Epithets of Foreign Deities in Egypt

Christiane Zivie-Coche wrote: “When introduced into the Egyptian world of the divine, foreign deities were qualified as netjer, “god,” like indigenous deities. In every case, their original name was preserved, transcribed into Egyptian hieroglyphic or hieratic with so-called syllabic-writing, a common method to transcribe words of Semitic origin into Egyptian. One can therefore not speak of an interpretatio aegyptiaca: foreign deities were not simply equated with Egyptian deities of a similar nature, but fully adopted into the pantheon. There are, however, some particular cases. Hauron was so closely associated with Harmachis, name of the Great Sphinx of Giza in the New Kingdom, that one addressed him indifferently as Harmachis, Hauron, or Hauron-Harmachis. [Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, translated from French by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]

“As regards Ba’al, his name is often written with the Seth-animal as its determinative, a sign that could also serve as an ideogram for writing the name of Seth. One could consider reading the name as Ba’al-Seth; whatever the case, it reveals that Egyptians felt a close association between the two deities. Moreover, in documents of the Ramesside Period there is an image of an easternized god with exotic clothing that is always accompanied by the name of Seth. Two aspects are combined here: a Seth-Ba’al, an Egyptian deity made eastern to convey Egyptian power across the borders, and a Ba’al-Seth, an eastern deity installed at Memphis and later elsewhere in Egypt. The goddess Qadesh, who is not a simple hypostasis of Astarte and Anat, represents a unique case, because her name is an Egyptian invention. Using the Semitic root q-d-š, Egyptians created the theonym, “the Blessed,” which was otherwise unknown in the ancient Near East. <>

“The epithets associated with these deities only rarely give information about the deity’s geographical origin. For example, an epithet on a sphinx statuette indicates that Hauron is originally from Lebanon, and a private stela records that Astarte is from Kharou. Their origin was neither forgotten nor unknown but held little importance in the new Egyptian setting. Most epithets are rather commonplace, expressing the power of the divinity (“great god”) and its celestial role (“lord/lady of the sky”); goddesses were often called “Mistress of the Gods” or “Mistress of the Two Lands.” Occasionally, family ties are specified: Astarte is the daughter of Ptah of Memphis, or of Ra, as is Anat. These two goddesses are frequently associated, without their sisterhood being clearly stated. They may also play a role in an Egyptian myth. For example, in the Harris Magical Papyrus, Anat and Astarte appear to be pregnant by Seth, but are unable to deliver the baby.” <>

Images of Foreign Deities in Egypt


Egyptain god Min with a Bes-like face standing in a position like the Middle Eastern god Baal

Christiane Zivie-Coche wrote: “Upon their adoption into Egypt, a visual image had to be developed for the newcomers, whose iconography was neither well established nor often represented in their region of origin. The preserved documents, statues, stelae, and temple reliefs show that their visual form followed the Egyptian model and its stringent rules of representation. Foreign deities can be recognized by attributes, which serve less to mark their “foreignness” than their function and character. Thus, Reshep, who may be dressed with an Egyptian loincloth or a Syrian kilt with shoulder strap, is shown with an Egyptian divine beard or with the Asiatic pointed goatee while wearing a crown similar to the Egyptian white crown. The crown is often adorned with two floating ribbons and a gazelle head in place of a uraeus. This symbol is by no means characteristic of the Asiatic god: Shed, the child archer god, is equipped with it likewise. Reshep is generally represented with shield, quiver, and arrows, which do not mark him as a god of war but a god ensuring protection of those who invoke him. [Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, translated from French by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]

“The image of Ba’al or rather of Seth-Ba’al is not very different, except that he is unarmed and wears a slightly different crown. Hauron is the only foreign deity to have adopted a mixed form of half animal, half human body. He is represented as a sphinx or a human with falcon head, which both are Egyptian forms of old and closely associated with the deity Harmachis. Astarte, mistress of horses, is represented as a young woman, sometimes androgynous, on horseback. Qadesh is recognizable by the fact that she is represented frontally, generally nude, while standing on a lion, holding serpents and a bouquet of papyrus in her hands and donned with a Hathor wig that is occasionally surmounted by different crowns. <>

“Frontal representation and nudity are rare in Egyptian iconography, though not unique to Qadesh; they can also be observed in child deities, such as Horus on the Crocodiles, and Bes, the deformed dwarf with prophylactic power. In conclusion, the attributes serve to identify the deities in the same way as indigenous gods without marking them as foreign per se. Once created in Egypt, this imagery exerted in return a strong influence on the iconography of the Near East in the second millennium B.C., which was largely Egyptianized. The iconographic motifs found at Ugarit, on Cyprus, and later in Phoenicia testify to the impact of Egyptian culture in these regions.” <>

Foreign Deity Cults in Egypt

Christiane Zivie-Coche wrote: “The cult rendered to these deities, once integrated in Egypt, appears to have been Egyptian in form, with Egyptians as devotees and cult specialists. It cannot be excluded that immigrants from the Near East rendered cult to them as well. However, neither proper names nor professional titles in private documents allow the conclusion, as has often been stated, that these cults testify to the presence of foreign communities that maintained their deities and customs. For example, in the Memphite region and in Deir el-Medina, where several foreign deities were worshipped, the devotees were fully integrated into Egyptian society. [Source: Christiane Zivie-Coche, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, translated from French by Jacco Dieleman, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]

“It is true that no major temples were ever dedicated to these deities, as their significance was never big enough, but in this respect they resemble indigenous deities of limited local importance. Being protectors of the king, private individuals turned to them for help and protection, in conformity with the principles of personal piety, a religious phenomenon that became prevalent in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.). The scribes of the Houses of Life, who composed formularies like the Magical Papyrus Harris, Papyrus Chester Beatty VII, and Papyrus Leiden I 348, often invoked foreign deities as an efficacious cure against scorpion stings, serpent bites, and various diseases and illnesses, in the same way they invoked Seth, Isis, or others. In other words, these deities had acquired an identity proper to Egypt, which only partially depended upon their original characteristics.” <>

Herodotus on Egyptian and Greek Gods


Isis temple in Delos, Greece

Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “In fact, the names of nearly all the gods came to Hellas from Egypt. For I am convinced by inquiry that they have come from foreign parts, and I believe that they came chiefly from Egypt. Except the names of Poseidon and the Dioscuri, as I have already said, and Hera, and Hestia, and Themis, and the Graces, and the Nereids, the names of all the gods have always existed in Egypt. I only say what the Egyptians themselves say. The gods whose names they say they do not know were, as I think, named by the Pelasgians, except Poseidon, the knowledge of whom they learned from the Libyans. Alone of all nations the Libyans have had among them the name of Poseidon from the beginning, and they have always honored this god. The Egyptians, however, are not accustomed to pay any honors to heroes. 51. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2 English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“These customs, then, and others besides, which I shall indicate, were taken by the Greeks from the Egyptians. It was not so with the ithyphallic images of Hermes; the production of these came from the Pelasgians, from whom the Athenians were the first Greeks to take it, and then handed it on to others. For the Athenians were then already counted as Greeks when the Pelasgians came to live in the land with them and thereby began to be considered as Greeks. Whoever has been initiated into the rites of the Cabeiri, which the Samothracians learned from the Pelasgians and now practice, understands what my meaning is. Samothrace was formerly inhabited by those Pelasgians who came to live among the Athenians, and it is from them that the Samothracians take their rites. The Athenians, then, were the first Greeks to make ithyphallic images of Hermes, and they did this because the Pelasgians taught them. The Pelasgians told a certain sacred tale about this, which is set forth in the Samothracian mysteries. 52.

“Among the Greeks, Heracles, Dionysus, and Pan are held to be the youngest of the gods. But in Egypt, Pan [Egyptian Khem] is the most ancient of these and is one of the eight gods who are said to be the earliest of all; Heracles belongs to the second dynasty (that of the so-called twelve gods); and Dionysus to the third, which came after the twelve. How many years there were between Heracles and the reign of Amasis, I have already shown; Pan is said to be earlier still; the years between Dionysus and Amasis are the fewest, and they are reckoned by the Egyptians at fifteen thousand. The Egyptians claim to be sure of all this, since they have reckoned the years and chronicled them in writing. Now the Dionysus who was called the son of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, was about sixteen hundred years before my time, and Heracles son of Alcmene about nine hundred years; and Pan the son of Penelope (for according to the Greeks Penelope and Hermes were the parents of Pan) was about eight hundred years before me, and thus of a later date than the Trojan war. 146.

“With regard to these two, Pan and Dionysus, one may follow whatever story one thinks most credible; but I give my own opinion concerning them here. Had Dionysus son of Semele and Pan son of Penelope appeared in Hellas and lived there to old age, like Heracles the son of Amphitryon, it might have been said that they too (like Heracles) were but men, named after the older Pan and Dionysus, the gods of antiquity; but as it is, the Greek story has it that no sooner was Dionysus born than Zeus sewed him up in his thigh and carried him away to Nysa in Ethiopia beyond Egypt; and as for Pan, the Greeks do not know what became of him after his birth. It is therefore plain to me that the Greeks learned the names of these two gods later than the names of all the others, and trace the birth of both to the time when they gained the knowledge. 147.”

Herodotus on Heracles in Ancient Egypt


Textile with Hercules from AD 4th century Egypt

Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “Concerning Heracles, I heard it said that he was one of the twelve gods. But nowhere in Egypt could I hear anything about the other Heracles, whom the Greeks know. I have indeed a lot of other evidence that the name of Heracles did not come from Hellas to Egypt, but from Egypt to Hellas (and in Hellas to those Greeks who gave the name Heracles to the son of Amphitryon), besides this: that Amphitryon and Alcmene, the parents of this Heracles, were both Egyptian by descent26 ; and that the Egyptians deny knowing the names Poseidon and the Dioscuri, nor are these gods reckoned among the gods of Egypt. Yet if they got the name of any deity from the Greeks, of these not least but in particular would they preserve a recollection, if indeed they were already making sea voyages and some Greeks, too, were seafaring men, as I expect and judge; so that the names of these gods would have been even better known to the Egyptians than the name of Heracles. But Heracles is a very ancient god in Egypt; as the Egyptians themselves say, the change of the eight gods to the twelve, one of whom they acknowledge Heracles to be, was made seventeen thousand years before the reign of Amasis. 44.[Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“Moreover, wishing to get clear information about this matter where it was possible so to do, I took ship for Tyre in Phoenicia, where I had learned by inquiry that there was a holy temple of Heracles.27 There I saw it, richly equipped with many other offerings, besides two pillars, one of refined gold, one of emerald: a great pillar that shone at night; and in conversation with the priests, I asked how long it was since their temple was built. I found that their account did not tally with the belief of the Greeks, either; for they said that the temple of the god was founded when Tyre first became a city, and that was two thousand three hundred years ago. At Tyre I saw yet another temple of the so-called Thasian Heracles. Then I went to Thasos, too, where I found a temple of Heracles built by the Phoenicians, who made a settlement there when they voyaged in search of Europe; now they did so as much as five generations before the birth of Heracles the son of Amphitryon in Hellas. Therefore, what I have discovered by inquiry plainly shows that Heracles is an ancient god. And furthermore, those Greeks, I think, are most in the right, who have established and practise two worships of Heracles, sacrificing to one Heracles as to an immortal, and calling him the Olympian, but to the other bringing offerings as to a dead hero. 45.

“And the Greeks say many other ill-considered things, too; among them, this is a silly story which they tell about Heracles: that when he came to Egypt, the Egyptians crowned him and led him out in a procession to sacrifice him to Zeus; and for a while (they say) he followed quietly, but when they started in on him at the altar, he resisted and killed them all. Now it seems to me that by this story the Greeks show themselves altogether ignorant of the character and customs of the Egyptians;for how should they sacrifice men when they are forbidden to sacrifice even beasts, except swine and bulls and bull-calves, if they are unblemished, and geese? And furthermore, as Heracles was alone, and, still, only a man, as they say, how is it natural that he should kill many myriads? In talking so much about this, may I keep the goodwill of gods and heroes! 46.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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