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Essay/Term paper: Ancient egyptian

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Political Science

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Egyptian creation stories tell of several variations of how the

world was composed. According to one variation, the ocean was the only thing

in existence. Then the sun, Ra, came out of an egg (or a flower in some

versions) that appeared on the surface of the water. Ra created four

children. They were the gods Shu and Geb and the goddesses Tefnut and Nut.

Shu and Tefnut became the air, who stood on Geb, the earth, and held up Nut,

who became the sky. Ra ruled over all.

It was not uncommon for siblings to have children in ancient Egypt,

and Geb and Nut had two sons, Set and Osiris, and two daughters, Isis and

Nephthys. Osiris succeeded Ra as the king of the earth, helped by Isis.

However, Set hated his brother out of jealousy and killed him. Isis embalmed

Osiris' body with the aid of the god Anubis, who then became the god of

embalming. Isis then resurrected Osiris, and he became the god of the

afterlife and the land of the dead. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, later

defeated Set in an immense battle and became king of the earth.

Another version tells that Ra emerged from primeval waters. From him came

Shu, the god of air and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. From their union

came Geb and Nut, who held the same positions as the above version.

Yet another version tells that Ra became the god of the afterlife, but was

still supreme.


The ancient Egyptian theology dealt with hundreds of deities. These gods

changed during the different dynasties and their importance depended on the

views of the rulers of the kingdom.

The Egyptians worshipped their gods at temples, and each was dedicated to a

particular god. A statue of the god stood in the center of these temples.

Every day, priests would clean and dress the statue and offer it meals

before the worshipping ceremonies took place.


Ra means "creator." He is or was for a time, in nearly all accounts of

Egyptian mythology, the supreme god. He was "the father of the gods, the

fashioner of men, the creator of cattle, the lord of all being". He is the

god of the sun in most of these accounts and is shown as a man with a

falcon's head. He carries a staff and the symbol for life, the ankh. The

symbol of the sun, also known as the solar disc, is above his head. Despite

the fact that he was a very important figure to Egyptians, he had few

temples dedicated to him. This was because of the fact that his importance

was reflected in all other worshipping rituals. The pharaohs named

themselves as sons of Ra.

The passage of the sun across the sky obviously fascinated the Egyptians

and from it rose many metaphors. At dawn the sun was regarded as a newborn

child emerging from the womb of Nut. The sun was also associated with a

falcon flying across the midday sun, thus Ra's appearance. He could also be

a boat sailing across the great blue sea of the heavens. At dusk he was an

old man stepping down to the land of the dead.


Amon is "the complete one". He was regarded as an important deity after the

second millennium BC, and considered supreme, surpassing even Ra, after the

sixteenth century B.C. He, like most other gods, had the body of a man. He

had a human head, and wears a crown with two tall plumes on its top.

Amon started out having power over the air or wind, but was not in complete

control of these forces. He later acquired powers of fertility that had

belonged to the god Min, the god of harvest.

By being accepted as the supreme god, Ra was a rival. To satisfy the claims

of supremacy made by Amon and Ra, the two deities merged to form the god

Amon-Ra or Amon-Re. This new god was worshipped as king of the gods, creator

of the universe, and the father of the pharaohs.

Amon-Ra was said to have guided the pharaohs in the battlefield. During the

battle of Kadesh, 1286 BC, Amon-Ra is supposed to have comforted the pharaoh

by saying, "Forward! Your father is with you! My powerful hand will slay a

hundred thousand men."


Osiris was said to be the king and judge of the dead. Because the

importance of the afterlife was so immense in the Egyptians, Osiris was a

very important figure in worship cults. In fact, for a period, the

worshipping of Osiris in the Nile Valley became so popular, it almost

exceeded that of the sun god and father of the pharaohs, Ra. The chief

reason for his importance was the assistance he gave the Egyptians with

embalming, which was considered essential for life after death.

Osiris was described as a man with a long black beard. His arms are in the

crossed position of mummies and carries a crook and a flail, which

symbolized his power over the dead, his nature as a dying and rising god,

and his command over agriculture. He wears the white crown of Upper Egypt.

His personal emblem is two stalks of corn placed on top of each other.


Isis is the "mother goddess." She is often illustrated as suckling the

child Horus. The name Isis is a Greek rendition of the Egyptian name Ast.

Worship of Isis became widespread in the Greco-Roman culture until from it

came a mysterious cult that worshipped both her and Osiris. This cult gained

much popularity until the spread of Christianity.


Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, was depicted as looking much like Ra, apart

from the symbol above his head and clothing. Like Ra, Horus had the head of

a falcon and the body of a man and holds a staff in one hand and the ankh in

the other. Unlike Ra, Horus wears the double crown on his head, showing that

he was king of both Upper and Lower Egypt.


Ptah was illustrated as a mummified man with a shaven or bound head and

held a scepter. At first he was most likely a fertility god like Min because

his name has connections with the womb. In the third millennium BC, priests

serving Ptah claimed that Ptah manifested himself in

many ways. It was believed that Ptah "created the gods, made their seats of

worship, established their sacrifices, and fashioned their forms." He was

the molder of all things. Ptah became the protector and advocate to sacred

arts and crafts.

Later, Ptah was associated with lesser deities, especially those related to

the dead. He was then known as Ptah-Seker. The name Seker came from the god

of the same name, who was the mummiform god of the dead. In some instances,

Ptah was linked to Osiris, thus the name Ptah-


Other Deities

Aapep - the Egyptian serpent and enemy of Ra, known usually by his Greek

name Apophis.

Ammut - "The Eater of the Dead." Part crocodile, part hippopotamus, and part

lion, Ammut ate the souls of those unworthy to spend eternity in Osiris'

kingdom. He was usually illustrated with mostly crocodile features.

Aten - the deity worshipped as the universal and creator god by the pharaoh

Akhenaten. Aten was represented by Ra's sun disc. After Akhenaten's death in

1350 BC, Egyptian worship returned to Amon-Ra.

Bastet - the cat goddess and daughter of Ra. In some myths, Bastet has some

of the destructive qualities of her counterpart, the lion goddess Sekhmet.

Both Bastet and Sekhmet were closely linked to the goddess Mut. In Bastet's

temple, cats were mummified upon their death and kept in the temple.

Bes - a popular household god. He was represented as a dwarf with a large

bearded face, shaggy eyebrows, long hair, large pointy ears, and a

projecting tongue. He protected children, slew poisonous snakes in the

towns, helped at childbirth, and kept misfortune at bay.

Khonsu - the moon god. He was the son of Amun and Mut. Like Ra, Khonsu was

often shown traveling across the sky in a boat. His symbol is a crescent

moon in a bowl position supporting a full moon. This symbol appeared above

his head. His ability to heal the sick drew many followers.

Maat - the goddess of truth and justice. She was the daughter of Ra and was

portrayed as a woman with a ostrich feather on her head. This feather, the

"Feather of Truth", was the same used to weigh the heart of the recently

deceased in Osiris' court.

Mehturt - the sky goddess who was portrayed as a cow. Her name means "Great

Flood" and she was the celestial river on which Ra and Khonsu's boats traveled.

Menthu - the god of war and a sun god. He was not ever considered to be the

supreme sun god, but rather an assistant to Ra, and is often shown with him.

He was particularly fond of horses.

When Egyptian chariots bore down on the Hittites during the battle of Kadesh

in 1286 BC, the pharaoh Ramesses II remarked that he was "like Menthu,

shooting to the right and left." His warlike qualities gained popularity

during later times.

Mertseger - a goddess with a serpent's head. Her touchiness caused visitors

to Thebes to pay her the greatest respect.

Meskhent - a goddess who assisted in the delivering of babies and assigning

a destiny to each. She may have also appeared in Osiris' court.

Min - the god of reproduction. Needless to say, he was an extremely popular


Nefertem - the god of the lotus flower from which, in some myths, Ra emerged

from each morning.

Nehebkau - a deity in the form of a serpent with human arms and legs. He was

a loyal servant to Ra. Nehebkau was originally a snake that threatened the

dead, but later evolved into a good force.

Nephthys - a funerary goddess. She appears as a normal woman. Her name means

"the lady of the castle".

Phoenix - a bird that consumed itself in fire and was reborn from its ashes

every 500 years. The phoenix was sometimes used to represent Ra who, like

the sun, is born at dawn and dies at twilight. Followers of early

Christianity adopted the phoenix as a symbol of immortality.

Qubenhsenuf - a falcon-headed god associated with funeral rites. He was one

of four gods responsible for the safety of the Canopic jars of the dead and

to guard the four corners of the sarcophagus. Qubenhsenuf's jar contained

embalmed intestines.

Qetesh - a fertility goddess, usually shown without clothes, holding

flowers, and standing on the back of a lion.

Renenutet - a snake goddess who protected the harvest and the pharaoh. Her

name is connected with the concept of nursing and raising children, and was

often represented as the essence of divine motherhood.

Sebek - the crocodile god of lakes and rivers. He splashed in a pool in his

temple at Fayum.

Seker - a funerary god who protected the city of Memphis. Seker later was a

member of Osiris' court.

Serqet - the scorpion goddess. She was a funerary deity who's task it was to

guard the Canopic jars. She was the companion of Isis.

Shu - the god of sunlight and air, and one of Ra's first two children. He

supports the sky with his arms.

Tefnut - the goddess of moisture. She helps her brother/husband Shu hold up

the sky and welcomed the sun, Ra, everyday, leading to the sun disc above

her head. She is represented as a woman with a lion's head.

Tuamutef - a funerary god. He was one of four responsible for the Canopic

jars. His contained the stomach of the deceased. He has the head of a jackal

and is consequentially associated with Anubis.

Upuanut - a wolf god who helped to guide the dead to the court of Osiris.

Wepwawet - a funerary god with a dog's body. His name means "the opener of



Ptah is said to have performed great miracles. One story relating to this

claim deals with Ptah saving the city of Pelusium from the Assyrians.

According to the myth, he instructed an army of rats to gnaw through the

attacker's bowstrings and shield handles. Defenseless, the Assyrians were

forced to retreat.

He was also said to reincarnate the Apis bull. This bull was worshipped in

its own temple in Memphis. Everyday at a fixed time, the bull was allowed to

run loose in the temple courtyard so the future could be foreseen by its

behavior. The Apis bulls would normally die of old age and, like any other

sacred Egyptian animal, was mummified. The Egyptians believed that Ptah

would reincarnate the Apis bull after its death. Excavations have uncovered

64 Apis bulls, all mummified.


One of the most important aspects of ancient Egyptian life is preparation

for the afterlife. It was believed that the basic life force consisted of

physical elements as well

as mental, one of which is the ka. The ka is a duplicate of the body that

accompanies the original body throughout life. Therefore, the ka could not

exist without the body, so every

effort was made to preserve it. From this belief came the ritual of

embalming. In addition, wood or stone replicas of the body were placed in

the tomb in case of the accidental destruction of the corpse. The more

statue duplicates of the body were put in the tomb, the greater chance the

person had of being resurrected. As a final protection, exceedingly

intricate tombs were built to protect the body and its replicas. According

to myth, the embalming was first performed by Isis, who prepared her

brother-husband Osiris, now the god of the underworld, for his journey to

Duat, the land of the dead, also known as Yaru.

Upon death, the ka was finally freed from the body, however, innumerable

perils awaited the ka until guided to Duat by the wolf-headed god Upuanut.

Because of these dangers, every tomb was furnished with a copy of the Book

of the Dead, a guide to life after death, which was inscribed on papyrus

scrolls. Part of the Book of the Dead told how to overcome these dangers.

Every necessity for life in Duat was put into the tombs, from furniture to

reading materials.

The dead were believed to first visit Osiris for permission to enter Duat.

It was located in a valley in the sky just past the western horizon,

separated from the earth and the heavens by mountains, through which the sun

god Ra passed everyday at sundown.

During the judgment process, the ka's heart, which was meant in the

symbolic sense but illustrated in the physical sense, was weighed on the

Scales of Judgment against the Feather of Truth before Osiris and his

forty-two assessors. Anubis held the scale and weighed the heart and Thoth

recorded the result. If deemed worthy, the ka would be allowed to spend

eternity in Duat. If not worthy, the ka would be subject to hunger and

thirst for several days, then the crocodile god Ammut would eat him.

In order to gain the best judgment in Osiris' court, the ka had to be able

to use magic spells and protest his innocence. But there were also

practical ways of gaining Osiris' mercy. A worshipper could visit Osiris'

temple at Abydos at some time during his life and leave some inscribed

offering. The Book of the Dead also contains instructions for proper conduct

before Osiris' court.

The Book of the Dead also tells about life in Duat. In Duat, grain

grew twelve feet tall and existence was a glorified version of life on

earth. Osiris expected the dead to do small amounts of work in these grain

fields in exchange for his protection and allowance to stay in Duat.


As the son of Geb, Osiris succeeded his father to the position of ruler

over Upper Egypt. He then took his sister Isis as his wife. First on his

agenda as king was to civilize his subjects. This included abolishing

cannibalism, showing them how to make agricultural tools, and cultivate

grapes and wheat. He instructed them on how to make bread and wine and the

arts of music and weaving. He also created a legal system and established

religious worship. His wife,

Isis, taught her subjects to ground flour, weave, and cure illnesses. She is

often credited with establishing the custom of marriage.

Having civilized Egypt, Osiris decided to do the same for the rest of the

world, leaving Isis to rule during his travels. After several years, he

returned, pleased to find that Isis' rule had kept everything in order. But

shortly afterward his brother Seth, who had immense jealousy in Osiris'

power and success, planned to kill him.

Seth invited Osiris to a banquet, and a beautiful coffer was presented to

him. Seth said that whoever could fit into the coffer could own it. Osiris

was first in accepting the challenge. He climbed in, and Seth and his fellow

conspirators nailed the lid shut and sealed it with lead. During the

protection of the night, they dropped it into the Nile. The coffer floated

out to sea, and after some time settled at the base of a tamarisk tree at

Byblos. The tree sensed the valuable nature of the contents of the coffer

and grew protectively around it. When the king of

Byblos ordered the tree cut for a supporting pillar of the roof of his

palace, his servants did so, and a delightful scent rose from it. Word of

the scent of the tree quickly spread far and wide.

Back in Egypt, Isis was mourning the loss of Osiris. She did so by cutting

off her hair and tearing her clothes. She was informed of the tree and

immediately recognized its significance. She quickly set off to Byblos.

Malcandre gave the tree trunk to Isis, and she retrieved the coffer. She

then took the coffer back to Egypt and hid it in the swamps of the

Nile delta. There she opened it, and tried to breathe life into Osiris. She

succeeded in keeping him alive long enough for him to impregnate her.

Soon afterwards, Seth was hunting in the swamps and found the coffer.

Infuriated that Osiris still existed, Seth cut the body into fourteen pieces

and scattered them across Egypt. With the aid of Nut, Isis sought the pieces

of the body, and recovered all but the genitals, which were gone forever.

She was successful in resurrecting Osiris.

Osiris went before the gods and discredited Seth. Having regained

life, his reputation, and the throne as ruler of Egypt, Osiris could have

stayed on the earth, but instead chose to become lord of the land of the

dead, which was believed to exist just past the western horizon.

Isis, assisted by Anubis, prepared Osiris for his journey to the land of

the dead with the first embalming rituals, which established the ritual of

burial in Egypt. The magic of Isis was considered important to gain

acceptance into the land of the dead.

Later, Isis gave birth to the child Horus, who she kept hidden in the swamp

to protect him from the rage of Seth.


When Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris, was the servant of the sun god

Ra, she persuaded him to confide his secret name to her, for whoever knew

the name would be granted much magic and power. She did this by collecting

some of the spittle that dripped from his lips and mixing it with earth.

>From this concoction she formed an asp, a deadly snake, which she placed in

Ra's path. The snake bit and poisoned Ra who, being senile, was not able to

cure himself. Only Isis could remove the poison and the pain. She told Ra

that she would, but only if he told her

his secret name. He refused.

The effects of the venom grew worse. Eventually Ra gave in and uttered the

name to Isis, on the condition that she never tell anyone else. Isis then

gained some of his power and she became unmatched in the magic arts.


Horus was raised in the swamps of the Nile Delta in utmost secrecy by his

mother, Isis. When he reached manhood he vowed to avenge the death of his

father, Osiris. He fought many lengthy battles with Seth. In one of these

battles he lost an eye. Eventually, Horus killed him. The gods had judged

that Horus had won an honorable victory.

In another version of the story, Horus had emasculated Seth rather

than kill him. He appeared before the council of the gods and claimed he had

the right to the throne of his father, Osiris. But Seth insisted that he

himself be crowned, arguing that Horus was illegitimate because he was

mysteriously conceived after Osiris' death. Finally, the cow goddess Neith

convinced through threats that the gods should "give the office of Osiris to

his son Horus," she declared,

"and do not act wickedly, else I become angry, and send heaven crashing to

the ground." He was granted rule over both Upper and Lower Egypt, even

though his father only ruled Upper Egypt.

To mark the event, Horus gave Osiris the eye he had lost and wore a serpent

on his head as his second eye. Thereafter, the pharaohs of Egypt wore the

serpent on their crown as a symbol of royal authority.



LEGENDS. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989.

Katan, Norma Jean, and Mintz, Barbara HIEROGLYPHS: THE WRITING OF ANCIENT

EGYPT. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1981.

Microsoft MICROSOFT ENCARTA '95. Electronic media. Redmond: Microsoft

Corporation, 1994.

Roberts, David. "Age of Pyramids." National Geographic Jan. 1995: 6-41

BULFINCH'S MYTHOLOGY. New York: Crown Publishers Incorporated, 1979.


York: Harper & Row Publishers Incorporated, 1959.

THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA. Chicago: World Book Incorporated, 1993. 

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