GODS WITH ANIMAL FEATURES
Thoeris (Taurt, Taweret), the hippopotamus-goddess, was a beneficent deity and the patron of woman in child-birth. Sekhmet: (Sakhmet), a lion-headed goddess worshipped in Memphis area, was the wife of Ptah and harbinger of destruction to the enemies of Re. Wepwawet (Upuaut), : the jackal-god of Asyut in Middle Egypt, was a god of the necropolis and an avenger of Osiris. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
Several gods and goddesses had association with snakes, particularly cobras. Edjo (Wadjet, Buto) was the cobra-goddess of Buto in the Delta and tutelary deity of Lower Egypt. She appeared on the royal diadem, protecting the king. Neheb-kau, the serpent deity of the underworld, was sometimes represented by a with holding the eye of Horus. Renenutet (Ernutet, Thermuthis), the goddess of harvest and fertility, was represented as a snake or a snake-headed woman. +\
Many gods and goddesses were associated with birds, particularly falcons. Nekhbet, the : vulture-goddess of Nekheb (modern El-Kab), was tutelary deity of Upper Egypt. She sometimes appeared on the royal diadem beside the cobra (Edjo). “Re-harakhty, a god who took the form of a falcon, embodied characteristics of Re and Horus. His name meant ''Horus of the Horizon'’. Sokaris (Sokar, Seker), a falcon-headed god, had his necropolis and cult-center in Memphis.
“Hat-mehit, the fish-goddess of Mendes in the Delta; was sometimes represented as a woman with a fish on her head. Heqet was the frog-goddess of Antinoopolis where she was associated with Khnum. She helped women during child-birth. Arsaphes (Herishef) was a ram-headed god from, Heracleopolis.
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
Local Deities, Deified Humans and Gods of Foreign Origin
“Montu (Munt) was originally the local deity of Hermonthis, just south of Thebes. During the 11th dynasty, he became the falcon-headed war-god of the Egyptian king and a state god. He was associated with king Montuhotep I (“Montu is satisfied”), who reunited Upper and Lower Egypt after the chaos of the First Intermediate Period. During the Twelfth Dynasty Montu fell out of favor and was displaced by of Amun, who took many qualities of Montu when warrior kings such as Thutmose III and Rameses II identified themselves with him.[Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
Imhotep (Imouthes) was the deified chief minister of Djoser and architect of the Step Pyramid. In the Late Period (712–332 B.C.) he was venerated as the god of learning and medicine and represented as a seated man holding an open papyrus. He was equated by the Greeks with Asklepios. +\
Several Egyptian goddesses were of Syrian origin. Anat: with warlike characte, was represented as a woman holding a shield and an axe. Astarte (As-start-a) was introduced into Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. She was also known as The Queen of Heaven and her cult often also worshiped Isis. Qadesh was usually represented as a woman standing on a lion's back. Reshef (Reshpu), the god of war and thunder, was of Syrian origin. +\
“Sarapis: a god introduced into Egypt in the Ptolemaic Perod, had characteristics of Osiris and Greek god Zeus. He was represented as a bearded man wearing a modius head-dress, His Egyptian written name (Osiris-Apis) may be an attempt to hide this god’s true origins. +\
Onuris (Anhur), the God of This in Upper Egypt, was the divine huntsman and was represented as a man. Sopdu, the ancient falcon-god of Saft el-Henna in the Delta, was a a warrior-god and protector of the eastern frontier often represented as an Asiatic warrior.Sokaris (Sokar, Seker), a falcon-headed god, had his necropolis and cult-center in Memphis. Nefertum, the god of the lotus, and hence of unguents; was worshiped at Memphis as the son of Ptah and Sakhmet. He was represented as a man with a lotus-flower head-dress. +\
Ra, Shu, Nut and Geb
Nut and Geb The ancient Egyptian sun god was called Ra (Re). According to ancient Egyptian creation myth, before the world emerged from the waters of chaos Ra appeared. He was so powerful that all he had to do was say the name of something and it came into being. "I am Khepera at the dawn, and Ra at noon and Tum in the evening," he declared and the first day was created. When he cried "Nut" the goddess of the sky took her place between the horizons. And when he the shouted "Hapi" the sacred river Nile began flowing through Egypt. After filling the world with beautiful things Ra said the words "man" and "women" and thus people were created. Ra then transformed himself into man, thus becoming the first pharaoh. [Source: Roger Lancelyn Green, Tales of Ancient Egypt]
The ancient Egyptians believed the sun was a god (Ra) who visited the underworld, a watery realm of the demons of the dead, where he battled with the serpent of chaos, and victoriously returned to the day each morning. They believed the Sun-god Ra rode across the sky from east to west in a “day boat” and changed to a “night boat” for the return trip through the underworld. He rose in the jaws of a lion in the East and set in the jaws of a lion in the West and was guided at night through the waters of chaos. The myths about Ra, it has been argued, made sense to the ancient Egyptians because they did not contradict what they saw with the naked eye.
Shu was the god of air. Shu separated space into Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephyhys were all offspring of Geb and Nut.
Nut was the sky-goddess. She was the great mother who held up the canopy of the sky. From her breast poured the Milky Way. In one tomb painting she is shown with her legs spread and her lover Geb, with an erect penis, reaching for her. Pharaohs often claimed to be the offspring of Nut and Geb, or as Pepi II put it from "between the thighs of Nut."
Geb was the Earth god. He is sometimes depicted with an erect penis and was sometimes represented by a crocodile.
Osiris, Seth and Isis
Seth Osiris is the God of the Dead and the Afterlife. He was Judge of the Divine Court and presided over the judgement of the dead. He was the first mummy and one of the most revered and powerful deities. He is often depicted with a tall conehead-like headdress and a crook in one hand and a flail in the other. These object are often pictured on images of pharaohs to represent their divine power. Isis was Osiris’s wife. Seth was his evil brother.
Osiris was a human who died and was resurrected as a god. He acted sort of like an Egyptian Jesus, giving humans the hope of an afterlife. Many Christian rituals — crucifixes, rosaries, communion and holy water — can be traced back to the Egyptian Osiris cult.
Isis is the Goddess of Maternity and Magic. The wife and sister of Osiris, she is often topless and dressed in a red dress. She was originally a local god in northern Egypt. According to legend Osiris was originally a local fertility god in southern Egypt. He was slain by his evil brother Seth and had his body parts scattered all over the world. Isis collected the pieces and wrapped them in a magical cloth woven from her hair by the embalming god Anubis, allowing Osiris to be reborn as the god of the dead. In one version of the story his body was torn into 14 pieces and all of them were found except one piece — Osiris’s penis. Mummification is viewed as reenactment of the events of Osiris’s death.
Hathor, Horus, Min and Thoth
Horus Hathor was Queen of the Skies and the Goddess of Love, Joy, Music, Beauty Healing, Fertility and Motherhood. She is the wife of Horus and is often depicted with the head or ears of a cow (sometimes called "star studded cow"). She is sometimes linked to drunkenness and is often associated with the Thebean Necropolis. She looks very similar to Isis. See Apophis, Sekmet, Hathor and Good and Evil
Dendara (near Cairo) is the home of the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the cow-headed goddess of healing. One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, it was built in the first century B.C. by the Ptolemaic Greeks and is famous for a ceiling painting, with astronomical symbols, and its great Hypostyle Hall. It even has a roof. The temple incorporates both Greek and Egyptian architectural styles. The 24 massive papyrus pillars in the main hall are capped with images of Hathor and decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian symbols. The stone ceiling features an Egyptian version of the star-lit sky, with goddess Nut, who, Egyptians believed, spanned the sky with her body and swallowed the sun each night and gave birth to it each morning. One of one of the walls is a famous picture of Cleopatra and Caesarian, her son from Julius Caesar.
Horus was the falcon-headed sky god. He is the son of Osiris and Isis. Isis gave birth to Horus after Osiris was murdered and hid him from his wicked uncle Seth by concealing him under her magic hair. Horus was king of the living. He is often identified with protection and associated with pharaohs.
Thoth is the ibis-headed god of wisdom, knowledge, learning, writing, measurement, historical records, science, magic and scribes. He had a good memory and was involved in the after-life ceremony of the dead in which the heart was weighed against the feather of truth. Thoth is the lord of the moon and is sometimes represented as a baboon. Temples devoted to Thoth were often filled with caged ibises and other birds that were mummified after death.
Min, the god of sexual fertility, appeared in both human form and as an erect phallus. It was no surprise that he was worshiped by a fetish cult similar to the one that honored Dionysus (Bacchus) in Greece.
Anubis and Other Gods Associated with the Dead
Anubis Anubis was the jackal-headed god of the dead, and mummification. Even though jackals were dreaded because they dug up the graves of the dead, Anubis was watchful-guardian deity who watched over the dead. After death it was Anubis who guided the deceased to the hall of judgment. See Funerals, Judgement.
Anubis (also known as Anpu) was depicted as a jackal-headed man, or as a jackal. His father was Seth and his mother Nephythys, making him the son of an incestuous union. His cult center was Cynopolis, now known as El Kes. Anubiswas the patron of embalmers, healers, and surgeons and was invoked in both healing and mummification ceremonies, preparing the dead for the Underworld and healing the living. Anubis is considered to be the great necropolis-god. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]]
Barbara Waterson wrote: “Anubis was embodied in the jackal, or wild dog, that the Egyptians often saw scavenging in cemeteries: hence he was associated with the dead. He was depicted as a black jackal-like creature, or as a man with a jackal's head. Early on in Egyptian history, before Osiris rose to prominence, Anubis was the great funerary god, lord and guardian of the necropolis. Prayers for the dead were addressed to him. He carried out the first mummification of the body of Osiris, and therefore became patron-god of embalmers. It was Anubis who guided the dead on the paths of the Underworld. [Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]
Maate is the winged Goddess of Justice. She is often represented with her wings spread on lintels over doorways in the tombs of pharaohs and their wives in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.
Isis, Nephthys, Neith and Selket were the four female benefactors of the dead. The four sons of Horus — Imsety, Hapy, Qebhsenuef and Duamutef — guarded the shrines of internal organs among other duties.
The goddess Selket, who guarded the shrines of internal organs, was so powerful she could cure the sting of the scorpion. She is often depicted with a scorpion on her head. The artisan-god Khnum is credited with creating human beings on his potter's wheel. Kheperi was the God of the Rising Sun and Resurrection. Montu was the God of War.
Atum, Mut, Amun and the Thebean Triad
Amun As Thebes became powerful in the Middle Kingdom the influence of its local gods grew. Its primary god Amun became a dominant god in all of Egypt, with connections to the sun god Ra and the pharaoh. The word "amen" is said to have originated in ancient Egypt as a tribute to Amun. When the Egyptians prayed they said "By Amun!," a custom that was picked up by the Hebrews and later passed on to the Christians.
Amun was originally a local god of fertility and growth. Amun-Re (a combination of Amun and the sun god Re) became the state god during the New Kingdom. Mut was the wife of Amun. Mut (which means "vulture") is symbolically portrayed in the form of a vulture. Khonsu was the son of Amun and Mut. Amun, Mut and Khonsu are referred to as the Thebean triad.
Atum (Atem) was a supreme god with connections to the creator god and "the god of the visible disc of the sun." He had his own city within which a temple was dedicated to him. Atum had some similarities with Amun. A descendent of the sun-god Ra, Atum emerged from a chaotic ocean known as Nun and immaculately conceived and gave birth to Shu (air) and Tefenet (moisture).
The “Pyramid Texts” provide three possibilities for how this was achieved. In one passage Atum's hand is referred to as a goddess (some say this implies masturbation). In another passage in another text he describes himself as hermaphrodite ("I am he who engendered Shu: I am he-she”). And in yet in another passage he vomits as the two gods.
Hathor, the Cow-Headed Goddess of Love and Destroyer of Mankind
Hathor was Queen of the Skies and the Goddess of Love, Women, Pleasure, Intoxication, Joy, Music, Beauty Healing, Fertility and Motherhood. The daughter of Ra and the wife of Horus, she is depicted in three forms: 1) as a cow (sometimes called the "star studded cow"), 2) as a woman with the ears of a cow, and 3) as a woman wearing the headdress of a cow’s horns. In the last manifestation, she is often depicted holding the solar disc between her horns. Hathor was closely associated with Horus, as his wife and the mother of his son, Hor-sma-tawy. Her name means “House of Horus.” She looks very similar to Isis. See Apophis, Sekmet, Hathor and Good and Evil
Hathor had many functions and attributes, including the suckler of the king, and the patron deity of unmarried women and the mining-region of Sinai. With the help of the dwarf-like god Bes, she protected women in childbirth. She is sometimes linked to drunkenness and is often associated with the Thebean Necropolis. As Hathor-of-the-West she was a goddess of the dead. Identified by the Greeks with Aphrodite, their goddess of love, fertility, women, and also their protector, she was sent by the sun god Ra to cleanse the land of disbelievers. After slaying all who opposed Ra, she asked to rest, and became the equivalent to the Greek form of Aphrodite. There are many other myths with Hathor as the central character. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]
Known as the 'Golden One', Hathor had many temples honoring her, including ones in the cult-centers at Memphis, Cusae and Gebelein. The most famous was in her cult center of Dendara (near Cairo). One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, it was built in the first century B.C. by the Ptolemaic Greeks and is famous for a ceiling painting, with astronomical symbols, and its great Hypostyle Hall. It even has a roof. The temple incorporates both Greek and Egyptian architectural styles. The 24 massive papyrus pillars in the main hall are capped with images of Hathor and decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian symbols. The stone ceiling features an Egyptian version of the star-lit sky, with goddess Nut, who, Egyptians believed, spanned the sky with her body and swallowed the sun each night and gave birth to it each morning. One of one of the walls is a famous picture of Cleopatra and Caesarian, her son from Julius Caesar.
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “There was a dark side to Hathor. It was believed that Ra sent her to punish the human race for its wickedness, but Hathor wreaked such bloody havoc on earth that Ra was horrified and determined to bring her back. He tricked her by preparing vast quantities of beer mixed with mandrake and the blood of the slain. Murdering mankind was thirsty work, and when Hathor drank the beer she became so intoxicated that she could not continue her slaughter.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
Hathor Temple at Dendara
Dendara (near Qena, 40 kilometers north of Luxor) is the home of the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the cow-headed goddess of healing. One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, it was built in the first century B.C. by the Ptolemaic Greeks and is famous for a ceiling painting, with astronomical symbols. Its great Hypostyle Hall even has a roof.
The temple incorporates both Greek and Egyptian architectural styles. The 24 massive papyrus pillars in the main hall are capped with images of Hathor and decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian symbols. The stone ceiling features an Egyptian version of the star-lit sky, with the goddess Nut, who, Egyptians believed, spanned the sky with her body and swallowed the sun each night and gave birth to it each morning. One of one of the walls is a famous picture of Cleopatra and Caesarian, her son from Julius Caesar.
Dedicated to Hathor in 380 B.C., the Temple of Dendara was known as the “Castle of the Sistrum” or “Pr Hathor”— House of Hathor. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “With the exception of its supporting pillars, which had capitals sculpted in the image of Hathor and were defaced by the Christians, the walls, rooms, and roof are complete and extraordinarily well preserved. The stone steps of the spiral staircase are time worn but may still be used to ascend to the roof, where there is a small chapel decorated with Hathor-headed columns. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
In ancient times, Dendara was associated with healing. Patients who traveled there for cures were housed in special buildings where they could rest, sleep, and commune with the gods in their dreams. There have been temples on this site ever since the Old Kingdom, but the present temple was begun in the reign of Ptolemy VIII. The building we see today was constructed and added to from about 116 B.C. to 34 AD. The temple bears the name of Cleopatra and her son. It is not known if she visited the temple but she may have climbed the same stairs that visitors use today. Hundreds of birds roost in small cracks and hollows in the walls near likenesses of themselves in the hieroglyphic reliefs.
Festival of the Coronation of the Sacred Falcon
On a festival honoring Horus held in conjunction the Khoiak Festival, which honored Osiris, during Ptolemic and Roman times, Filip Coppens of Charles University, Prague wrote: “The “Festival of the Coronation of the Sacred Falcon” (xaw nswt) was but one of many examples of this type of feast. It was celebrated during the first days of the month of Tybi and is depicted in detail on the inner face of the temple’s enclosure wall. The festival followed almost immediately upon the feasts surrounding the internment and resurrection of the god Osiris, in his role as ruler of Egypt and father of Horus, at the end of the month of Khoiak. On the first day of the fifth month of the year, Horus, as the son and legitimate heir of Osiris, assumed the kingship over the two lands. [Source: Filip Coppens, Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, escholarship.org ]
“The annual Festival of the Coronation of the Sacred Falcon can be seen as a re-enactment of both Horus and the ruling pharaoh taking their rightful place upon the throne of Egypt. The main events of this festival consisted of a series of processions within the temple precinct. The main stages of the feast included: a procession of the falcon-headed statue of Horus from the sanctuary to the “Temple of the Sacred Falcon”, located in front of the main temple; the election of a sacred falcon, reared within the temple precinct, as the heir of the god; the display of this falcon (from the platform between the two wings of the pylon) to the crowd of people gathered in front of the temple; the falcon’s coronation in the temple; and, finally, a festive meal in the “Temple of the Sacred Falcon”. Another important festival in the temple of Edfu of which more than the name has been preserved is the “Festival of Victory” (Hb qnt) depicted on the interior of the enclosure wall.”
Bastet, the Cat God, and Bes, the Lion-Faced Dwarf
Bastet was depicted as a woman with a cat’s head or simply as a cat. Originally an avenging lioness deity, she evolved into a goddess of pleasure. Her cult-center was at Bubastis in the eastern Nile Delta. Regarded as a beneficent deity in the Late Period (712–332 B.C.), she was the patron and protector of cats and women. Many cats lived at her temple. A huge cemetery of mummified cats was discovered nearby.[Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, +\ Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
Barbara Waterson of the BBC wrote: Bastet “was probably worshipped originally as a wild cat (Felis vercata maniculata), but her later manifestations were as the domestic cat that was introduced into Egypt around 2100 B.C. She was depicted as a woman with a cat's head, or in the form that is familiar to us from the numerous Late-Period statues of her, that of a lissom and majestic queen cat. Although a virgin goddess she was nevertheless the mother of a son, Mihos. In the Late Period her popularity was so great that worshippers flocked to her temple for the annual festival held in her honour. The Greeks identified her with Artemis, the divine huntress.” |[Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]
Bes was a grotesque dwarf-deity with leonine features. Regarded as a domestic god, he was associated with good times and entertainment and was believed to protect worshipers against snakes and other dangerous creatures. He also helped women in child-birth and chased away demons of the night. Unlike the other gods, Bes is represented full face rather than in profile, often with bandy legs and his tongue sticking out. +\ ^^^
Ma’at (Maat, Maate) was the winged Goddess of Justice. She was often represented with her wings spread on lintels over doorways in the tombs of pharaohs and their wives in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.Seshat, the goddess of writing and the divine keeper of royal annals, was represented as a woman.
The Goddess of Truth, Justice and Orderly Conduct, Ma’at was typically represented as a woman with an ostrich-feather on her head. During the judgement of the dead she was the one who held the scales which weighed the human heart. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Embodying the essential harmony of the universe., she was depicted as a seated woman wearing an ostrich feather, or sometimes just as the feather itself. Her power regulated the seasons and the movement of the stars. Ma’at was the patron of justice and the symbol of ancient Egyptian ethics, so the Vizier who was in charge of the Law Courts went by the title Priest of Maat. Ma’at was the ultimate judge in the afterlife, and the heart of the newly deceased was weighed against her feather in the Hall of Two Truths. Ammut, devourer of the dead, ate those who failed her test.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
Nikolaos Lazaridis of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands wrote: “In contrast to the multitude of debatable terms used in modern ethics, the only Egyptian term evidently employed in association with a body of moral values and their application was maat. Maat was the name of the goddess of “justice” and “cosmic order,” but also an abstract term for “justice,” “truth,” and “balance,” embodying the gist of a proper code of conduct—the very nucleus of Egyptians ethics—and hence opposed by the terms jsft (“sin, wrong”) and grg (“lie”). The goddess Maat was the daughter, and an essential aspect (Teilmacht), of the sun god; she was featured in a wide range of religious and mythological works and had a cult and a number of cultic sites dedicated to her. As an abstract notion, maat personified the divine and cosmic order and was included in the epithets of several gods—for example, Ptah (as Creator), Horus (as a sky god), and Thoth were often granted the epithet “Lord of Maat”.” [Source: Nikolaos Lazaridis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, escholarship.org ]
Nile and Ancient Egyptian Gods
John Baines of the University of Oxford wrote: “The Nile, so fundamental to the country's well-being, did not play a very prominent part in the religious life of Egypt. The Egyptians took their world largely for granted and praised the gods for its good features. There was no name for the Nile, which was simply the 'river' (the word 'Nile' is not ancient Egyptian). The bringer of water and fertility was not the river but its inundation, called 'Hapy', who became a god. Hapy was an image of abundance, but he was not a major god. [Source: John Baines, BBC, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“Kings and local potentates likened themselves to Hapy in their provision for their subjects, and hymns to Hapy dwell on the inundation's bountiful nature, but they do not relate him to other gods, so that he stands a little apart. He was not depicted as a normal god but as a fat figure bringing water and the products of abundance to the gods. He had no temple, but was worshipped at the start of the inundation with sacrifices and hymns at Gebel el-Silsila, where the hills meet the river, north of Aswan. |::|
“The major god most closely connected with the Nile was Osiris. In myth Osiris was a king of Egypt who was killed by his brother Seth on the river bank and cast into it in a coffin. His corpse was cut into pieces. Later, his sister and widow Isis succeeded in reassembling his body and reviving it to conceive a posthumous son, Horus. |::|
“Osiris, however, did not return to this world but became king of the underworld. His death and revival were linked to the land's fertility. In a festival celebrated during the inundation, damp mud figures of Osiris were planted with barley, whose germination stood for the revival both of the god and of the land. |::|
Sobek, the Crocodile God, and Other Nile Gods
Sobek (Sebek, Suchos), the crocodile-god, was worshiped throughout Egypt, but especially in Faiyum, and at Gebelein and Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt. He was usually depicted as a crocodile on an altar or as a man with a crocodile head wearing a headdress with a sun disk with upright feathers and horns. Sobek’s main cult centers were at Medinet el Faiyum and at the temple of Kom Ombo, which he shared with Horus and can be visited today. At this temple there was a pool where sacred crocodiles were kept. Original mummified crocodiles ate still kept at the temple. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com, ^^^Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
Hapi (Hap) was the god of the Nile in inundation. He was represented as a pot-bellied man with full, heavy breasts, a clump of papyrus on his head, carrying heavy offering-tables. Hapi was not the god of the river Nile but of its inundation. He was thought to live in the caves of the first cataract, and his cult center was at Aswan. ^^^ +\
“Khnum, the ram-headed god of Elephantine, was the god of the Cataract-regio and is thought to have molded man on a potter's wheel. A potter and protector of the source of the Nile, he was based on Elephantine Island near Aswan but his best-preserved temple is at Esna. The “Famine Stele” contains appeals to Khnum during a famine caused by a low inundation of the Nile. ^^^ +\
“Anukis (Anqet) was the goddess of the cataract-region at Aswan. The wife of Khnum, she was represented as a woman with a high feather head-dress. Satis (Satet), the goddess of the Island of Siheil in the Cataract-region, was represented as a woman wearing a white crown with antelope horns. She was the daughter of Khnum and Anukis. +\
Nephythys, Neith and Selket: Female Benefactors of the Dead
Isis, Nephthys, Neith and Selket were the four female benefactors of the dead identified by the Greeks with Athena. who guarded coffins and Canopic jars. They acted as mourner for Osiris and hence for other dead people.
Neith (Net), Goddess of Sais, was represented as a woman wearing the red crown, her emblem, and a shield with crossed arrows. Selkis (Selkit, Selkhet, Serqet) was the scorpion-goddess, identified with the scorching heat of the sun. She was sometimes depicted as a woman with a scorpion on her head. She was so powerful she could cure the sting of the scorpion.
Nephthys (Nebet-het) was the sister of Isis, the daughter of Geb and Nut, wife of Seth and mother of Anubis, Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Nephythys is depicted as a woman with the hieroglyphs for a palace and ‘Neb’ (a basket) on her head. She is thus known as “Lady of the Mansions” or “Palace.” Nephythys was disgusted by Seth’s murder of Osiris and helped her sister, Isis, against her husband, Seth. Together with Isis she was a protector of the dead, and they are often shown together on coffin cases, with winged arms. She seems to have had no temple or cult center of her own.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
Ibis-headed Thoth was best known as a god of writing and wisdom but was also the god of knowledge, learning, measurement, historical records, science, magic and scribes. Regarded as a cosmic deity, creator god, and warrior, he had a good memory and was involved in the after-life ceremony of the dead in which the heart was weighed against the feather of truth. Thoth was the lord of the moon and was sometimes represented as a baboon. Temples devoted to Thoth were often filled with caged ibises and other birds that were mummified after death. Seshat, the goddess of writing and the divine keeper of royal annals, was represented as a woman.
Thoth was a lunar deity and vizier of the gods. Both the ibis and the ape were sacred to him. Thoth was associated with Hermopolis in Middle Egypt, the home of his main temple, and was considered the inventor of writing. During the judgment of the dead he was the scribe who recorded the confessions and affirmations of the dead on his scrolls, and also kept a record of who went into paradise and who was eaten by the dogs of judgment. He is often seen recording the deeds of the dead at the day of their judgment in the Book of the Dead.. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]
Barbara Waterson wrote for the BBC: Thoth “acted as scribe to the gods, his chief activities being to record the verdict on the dead who were tried in the Hall of Judgement; and to inscribe on the sacred mimusops (persea-tree) the number of years a king had allotted to him for his reign. Thoth was believed to have a book containing all the wisdom of the world within it. His chief place of worship was Hermopolis Magna (the modern el-Ashmunein), so called by the Greeks who equated him with Hermes, their messenger of the gods.” [Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: Thoth was usually depicted as a man with the head of an ibis holding a scribe’s pen and palette, or as a baboon. The Greeks ascribed to him the invention of all the sciences as well as the invention of writing. He is often portrayed writing or making calculations. Thoth was as old as the oldest gods and often acted as an intermediately between gods. He was sometimes shown wearing a moon disk and crescent headdress. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
Martin A Stadler of the University of Wuerzburg wrote: “Being one of the oldest deities of the Egyptian pantheon, he is attested in many sources from the earliest periods of Egyptian history up to the Roman Period. The etymology of his name remains unexplained, possibly due to the name’s antiquity. Perhaps it is his age as a divine figure that led to a rather confusing mythology with a series of contradicting traditions concerning his descent and his reputation as a benevolent versus atrocious or mistrusted deity. Under the influence of Hellenism, he transformed into Hermes Trismegistos in Roman times and lived on as such well into the European renaissance. [Source: Martin A Stadler , University o Wuerzburg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org ]
“The ancient Egyptian god Thoth is usually termed “god of wisdom,” “scribal god” or “divine scribe,”as well as “lunar deity” or “divine vizier.” These functions set Thoth apart from most other gods and thus may be regarded as typical for him, but at the same time they are reductionist. Thoth is attested from the earliest historical periods onwards: he already plays a prominent role in the oldest religious texts of Egypt, the Pyramid Texts, and continues to appear almost everywhere in Egypt up to the end of Egyptian religion some 4000 years later, transforming into the Hermes Trismegistos of late antiquity, and living on as such well into the European renaissance. Throughout this long period the god is overwhelmingly present in a vast body of documentation that yields an extraordinarily colorful picture of the god’s nature and functions within the Egyptian pantheon. The more data and sources are collected the more Thoth’s picture becomes blurred and it seems that he embodies almost every possible aspect one could imagine a god to have within Egyptian mythology: in addition to the characterizations mentioned above, he is found acting as a cosmic deity, a primeval creator, and a warlike divinity. From this it may be concluded that Thoth may be one of the oldest deities within the Egyptian pantheon, which may be one of the reasons why his Egyptian name, 9Hwtj, cannot be explained satisfyingly, as the theonym’s etymology may reach back into periods for which no written sources are available.
“Thoth appears virtually everywhere—in the major religious corpora (Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Book of the Dead, and temple inscriptions), literature, and in the visual arts, as pointed out above. One major source not been mentioned so far is a text entitled by the modern editors Book of Thoth, which may be the mysterious and powerful writing often referred to in Egyptian literature. It has survived in numerous manuscripts and is a dialogue between a wisdom-seeking disciple and a master—Thoth according to the editors—and thus it may be a precursor to the Hermetic writings. Quack has disputed such an interpretation and maintained that the text is the ritual for the initiation to the scribal profession and that the disciple speaks with at least four persons, none of whom are Thoth. However, the respondents’ designations can be seen as antonomasias for Thoth. During an initiation rite such as Quack has proposed we can imagine that the participants took on mythic roles, therefore possibly including those of Thoth and a disciple engaged in a dialogue.”
Images of Thoth
Martin A Stadler of the University of Wuerzburg wrote: “Thoth’s manifestations are of two main types: as an ibis or ibis-headed man, and as a baboon. On Pre- and Early Dynastic palettes the king is accompanied by a series of standards. Often on one of them stands an ibis designated as the Lord of Hermopolis, i.e., Thoth, in his later, canonized form. The typical writing of “Thoth” in the Pyramid Texts is the ibis on a standard ), which suggests that the ibis is already the deity’s normal iconography as early as the Old Kingdom. Therefore these early depictions could also be interpreted as attestations of Thoth. For example, a rock relief from the Sinai, carved during one of the mining expeditions of Khufu’s reign, shows the king smiting an enemy in front of an ibis- headed god. This would be the oldest known depiction of Thoth in ibis-headed form. However, there is no caption specifying identity, which leaves some uncertainty, because in Egypt a deity can take different shapes, or a certain shape can be taken by different deities. Accordingly, in most cases the ibis does denote Thoth, but very rare exceptions do occur. It is hard to say whether the ibis- iconography of deities other than Thoth always aims at assimilating the depicted god to Thoth—for example, the souls (bAw) of Hermopolis are shown as ibis-headed figures. That is certainly not a coincidence, Hermopolis being Thoth’s chief cult-center. Therefore, it may be speculated whether the representation of an ibis-headed goddess should be associated with Thoth, but this remains a hypothesis for which only circumstantial evidence can be adduced. [Source: Martin A Stadler , University o Wuerzburg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org ]
Usually the squatting baboon, its hands on its knees, is to be identified as a theriomorphic transformation of Thoth, sometimes with the lunar disc and crescent on its head. The statue of a baboon in the cult chamber of the baboons at Tuna el-Gebel, the Late to Roman Period necropolis of Thoth’s cult-center in Upper Egypt, shows this iconography. On votive stelae, inscriptions identify the squatting baboon, its hands on its knees, as “Lord of Hermopolis”. Conversely, the baboon is quite often found not to represent Thoth. For instance, baboons adoring the rising sun may be an early manifestation of the Hermopolito- Theban ogdoad. Furthermore, one of Horus’s sons, Hapi, is shown as a man with an ape-head, which is not easily distingushed from a baboon’s head. The depiction of a striding, baboon-headed man in a ritual scene from Tuna el-Gebel does not show Thoth, either, in much the same manner as an ibis- headed mummy represents the deceased sacred ibis.
“Both the ibis-headed man and the baboon are associated with Thoth’s scribal role, whether it be that he records the results of the judgment after death, assigns a long reign to the king, inscribes the king’s name on the ished-tree), or that scribes represent themselves as being under the protection of the deity in the form of a baboon. Whereas Thoth as an ibis- headed man is quite standard, the ape-headed man who presumably stands for Thoth is rather exceptional, as in the judgment scene on the Theban coffin lid BM EA 6705.
“Besides the ibis and the baboon, Thoth can manifest himself in three other forms (excluding derivatives of the aforementioned baboon- and ibis-iconographies, such as an ibis-headed lion). A particular cult image of Thoth, which Thutmose III donated to the temple of Osiris at Abydos, and which bears the epithet sxm nTrw, “power of the gods,” is uniquely worshipped in the guise of a sxm-scepter. There are, additionally, some indicators suggesting that the falcon can also represent the god. Although the falcon tends to be a rather generic symbol for the divine in general, it might also express overlappings with Horus. Finally, Thoth is rarely depicted purely anthropomorphically. One such example is found at Hermopolis from the reign of Sety II . There Thoth is shown, wearing the lunar disc and crescent, on the doorway of the Amun-temple’s pylon. Since the relevant caption calls him “of Ramesses, beloved of Amun”, it has been assumed that this is a personality distinct from the standard Thoth.
“However, a series of anthropomorphic depictions such as that at Karnak suggests that all such representations should be identified as Thoth himself rather than postulating different manifestations of Thoth. Perhaps they serve to emphasize Thoth’s lunar aspect, because both the lunar deity Khons and Iah-Thoth (Moon-Thoth) can also appear as a man wearing the lunar disc and crescent on his head. Considering Thoth of Pnubs in ritual scenes, either striding or enthroned and usually wearing the four- feathered crown above a wig with short curls, the anthropomorphic iconography might sometimes also refer to Thoth in the Myth of the Solar Eye and his role in bringing back the sun-god’s daughter to Egypt.”
Martin A Stadler of the University of Wuerzburg wrote: “Contrary to Osiris, on whom a biography can be written, despite variant traditions, as though he had been a real human being, Thoth does not allow for the establishment of such a mythological biography, because there are highly contradictory sources pertaining to his coming into being , and none of them can be categorized as primary without reservation. Thoth is termed as having been autogenously born, having no mother, but other sources describe him as a son of goddesses (Nut, Neith, Rat-taui, goddess of Imet, or an unspecific “Great One” [wrt]), or having emerged from the cranium of Seth after Seth had been impregnated with Horus’s semen. The Bubastis tradition has it that Thoth is the child born from Seth’s rape of Horit, who subsequently delivers into the water an egg, later found as a baboon by a black ibis. The tradition thus appears as an attempt to bring together various versions and to explain the two forms of Thoth. When Thoth is engaged in activities concerning Osiris’s corpse, and is involved in the world’s creation. Nonetheless, Thoth can act as a creator god, for which a particular iconography—a naked ibis-headed man whose toes are jackal heads—may have been developed , or he can be perceived as the creator’s intellectual capacity and faculty of speech, through which everything is conceptualized and called into being, qualifying Thoth for his intimate relationship with language and texts. [Source: Martin A Stadler , University o Wuerzburg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org ]
“It seems as though Thoth is a deity without a “childhood,” because there is no tradition for his growing up except for indirect hints that refer to his rejuvenation as a lunar deity, but that Osirian funerary rituals, he appears as Osiris’s son. This, however, should be taken as a functional term of kinship, since it was a son’s duty to bury his father. Indeed Thoth shares such a filiation with Anubis. Thoth hatching from an egg is an occasionally repeated Egyptological conjecture that lacks evidence. It goes back to an unproven connection between the two stones from which Thoth emerges, according to Spell 134 of the Book of the Dead, and the egg shells of the primeval egg, which were kept in Hermopolis as relics. Rejuvenation is, of course, a cyclical and cosmic one. Whenever Thoth appears in action there is no reference made to his being, or having been, a child. He is always presented as an adult. Again contrary to Osiris his relationship to a goddess is not essential to his identity—indeed it is even less so than that of Amun to his consort, Mut, in Thebes or Horus of Edfu to Hathor, although in Hermopolis he is coupled with Nehemetaway. His affiliation with Nehemetaway, however, merely seems to somewhat in competition with Anubis as embalmer—and as an archetypical lector priest . One source implies that, according to a Letopolitan tradition, Thoth was not exactly free of blame in the murder of Osiris, whom he, together with Horus, killed accidently during the primordial battle against the cosmic enemies, Thoth actually completing the murder. Such a violent action is not alien to Thoth, surprising though it may seem for the “god of wisdom.” He predominantly appears as a slaughterer of inimical beings in the older sources and this feature was retained follow a general trend of systematizing the gods in triads and has little if any impact on his mythology. Elsewhere Thoth appears with Seshat, who shares with him the characteristic of scribal competence.
“Thoth’s intervention is a necessary component of all the major Egyptian complexes of myths: in the Osiris-myth he participates in the mummification rites— usually reciting the spells, but also being throughout Egyptian history. It is therefore not surprising that Thoth himself is injured during the struggles of Horus and Seth for the succession of Osiris. In this myth, however, most sources describe him as the judicial expert in the lawsuit between the two contenders. Either he is featured as a judge himself, or his knowledge is requested by other deities who ask for his opinion when having to decide who should succeed Osiris. In some texts Thoth is referred to as “chief judge”. This allows his identification with the vizier in the divine sphere, just as on earth the vizier is the chief judge in Egypt. The association does not exclude describing, or identifying, the king’s actions as those of Thoth even in Ptolemaic and Roman captions , nor is it a late development, because already in the Pyramid Texts the king plays the administrative role of Thoth, is his son, or receives his help. It is in the myth of Horus and Seth as reported in Papyrus Chester Beatty I that Thoth exclusively fulfills scribal duties—his most prominent role from the Middle Kingdom onwards. To conclude from this text that Thoth is a divine but subaltern secretary who receives orders rather than acts through his own power overlooks the weight that the other deities assign to his juristic assessments.
“In the course of the battles of Horus and Seth, Horus’s eye is injured. The injured eye is subsequently healed by Thoth. In many of Thoth’s epithetical captions, this mytheme has been associated with his achievement in the Myth of the Solar Eye. There the sun-god sends him out to retrieve his daughter, who is her father’s eye. Having been insulted, she has left Egypt in a rage for Nubia, and it is Thoth’s duty to appease her and convince her to return to Egypt. The myth can be reconstructed from many allusions in a multitude of temple inscriptions and other religious texts—the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts, and the Book of the Dead, among others—and was widely used as a source of metaphors and epithets in later temple inscriptions , but is narrated in its most comprehensive form in a Demotic papyrus.
“Because the sun-god’s daughter appears in the shape of a lion in the Myth of the Celestial Cow , the Egyptians perceived some connections between the Myth of the Solar Eye and the Myth of the Celestial Cow, particularly concerning the leonine goddess. Thoth’s role in the latter myth, however, is quite different from his role in the former. In the Myth of the Celestial Cow, which is one version of the mytheme of a rebellion against the sun-god some time after the world’s creation, the sun-god retires to the sky and appoints Thoth, being the vizier (TAtj), as his representative (stj Ra)—an appointment endowing Thoth with the power to send (hAb) those who are greater (or older) than he to command the primeval gods and to drive back (anan) foreign peoples (HAw-nbw). Thus the sun-god creates the ibis (hbj) and the baboon (anan) of Thoth by means of a pun. In Spell 175a of the Book of the Dead, a dialogue between the solar creator (here named Atum) and Thoth is preserved and best understood in the context of the Myth of the Celestial Cow. Atum complains about the rebels and asks the advice of Thoth, who promises to solve the problem and introduces mortality to mankind.
“Thus, Thoth is not an unequivocally beneficent god, but also a god who was distrusted at times. Possibly connected with his aforementioned lunar aspect and the phenomenon of the lunar month comprising a little less than 30 days, he can be accused of having stolen from the offerings and of having disturbed the cosmic order. Such an accusation was developed for instance in a “hymn” to Thoth found in papyri Chester Beatty VIII and Greenfield and in the charge raised by Baba against Thoth according to Papyrus Jumilhac. This charge of theft is quite delicate, as he is also responsible for ascribing the offerings to the gods.”
Cult and Worship of Thoth
Martin A Stadler of the University of Wuerzburg wrote: “The competing and contradicting traditions of Thoth’s mythological origins as well as his actions at a very early stage of the world’s creation may suggest that the god’s historical roots go very deep. As pointed out above, there are depictions of ibis-deities on Pre- and Early Dynastic objects, but it is not clear whether they actually represent Thoth, although it is highly likely. The search for his original cult center does not yield results that are beyond doubt and based on unequivocal sources. From the Old Kingdom onward there are two principle cult centers, Hermopolis Magna (anciently 2mnw) in the 15th Upper Egyptian nome (Wnw, the hare- nome), and Hermopolis Parva (anciently Pr- 9Hwtj-Wpj-RHwj, “House of Thoth Who Has Divided the Two Companions,” at least in the first millennium B.C.) in the 15th Lower Egyptian nome. This parallelism may indicate an intentional systematization by the Egyptians. Passages in the Coffin Texts (later incorporated in the Book of the Dead) suggest that the ibis-god Thoth may have usurped Hermopolis Magna from a baboon-god, Hedj-Wer, by adopting the baboon as another of his manifestations, yet the reconstruction of such an etiology remains highly speculative. Still, the 15th Lower Egyptian nome has the ibis as its standard, which might point to this area being the true home of the ibis-god. [Source: Martin A Stadler , University o Wuerzburg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org ]
“Of the Thoth-temples at Hermopolis Magna and Parva not much has survived. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Napoleonic expedition saw at Hermopolis Magna the remains of a pronaos that disappeared thereafter. Horemheb built a pylon there that was three-fourths of the height of his Ninth Pylon at Karnak—an impressive monument for a presumably provincial town . Merenptah erected a temple of Amun in the sacred precinct, but, surprisingly, according to the dedicatory inscription it is Thoth who gracefully accepts this offering and thus dominates over Amun. Ramesses III built several monuments and an enclosure wall there and also “multiplied the divine offerings”. Nectanebo I subsequently commissioned the restoration of the temple of the goddess Useret-Nehemtawy, Thoth’s consort, as well as a 110-meter-long, 55-meter-wide extension of the Thoth temple. Perhaps this work could not be finished during Nectanebo’s reign and was accomplished in the late fourth century B.C..
“Lacking religious texts from the site, little in specific can be said regarding any cult of Thoth that might have been celebrated there: the tomb inscriptions of the fourth-century B.C. high priest of Thoth, Petosiris, are not very informative on that point. Despite such a dearth of information from Hermopolis Magna, the city was anciently considered one of the chief intellectual centers, possibly because of Thoth’s image as god of writing and wisdom. Yet, a closer examination of the available religious texts does not support the view that Thoth’s cult center dominates other Egyptian cities as a place where holy texts were found .
“In almost any Egyptian sanctuary a “Thoth- area” can be identified, but just two additional temples dedicated to Thoth are selected for discussion here, because they show how their Thoth-mythology is oriented towards their environs. At Qasr el-Aguz an early Ptolemaic temple of Thoth is preserved. His particular form there is that of Thoth “the face of the ibis has said” and of Thoth-setem (9Hwtj-stm). The former designation refers to the deceased sacred ibis at Hermopolis Magna and has both oracular and funerary connotations; the latter is not as easily translated. It might refer to Thoth as the libationer (sTj mw- stm) or Thoth as se(te)m- priest and thus presents Thoth as a ritual performer, especially in his function of libationer. Both epithets point to nearby Medinet Habu, where the Hermopolitan ogdoad was believed to be buried and where regular libation rites were performed. In the Nubian temple of Dakke, Thoth’s role in the Myth of the Solar Eye is prominent. Therefore, in this temple he is associated with Shu and Arensnuphis, the brother gods of the Dangerous Goddess, who is the Solar Eye. Both deities are equally involved in appeasing and bringing back the leonine goddess.”
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