Egyptian Mythology Basics

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Article on the basics of Ancient Egyptian mythology and culture.

This is a bit about the basics of Egyptian mythology. I hope you enjoy and maybe learn a little :) please note that the Egyptian religion changed quite a bit depending on who was pharaoh, who was ruling (much changing during reign of Ptolemies or Hyksos), locality, or even who they won or lost a war to. You could go to one city in Egypt and find them with certain traditions and even different gods, then to another and find things completely different!

The Egyptian religion was practiced widely throughout its region of Northeastern Africa. In its day, it would be formidable and widely known. The mythology influenced many who were not Egyptian, such as the Romans who adopted the goddess Isis into their customs. By the Egyptians, Isis was usually known as Aset. Both the common Egyptian names and Greek-given names of the gods will be provided, to make it easier to recognize the gods. Egypt wasn't called Egypt by Egyptians either, it was called Kemet.

Ra, (or the Greek Helios) is usually considered the creator god (The religion was variable depending on location and pharaonic dynasty, sometimes there would only be one court-acknowledged god) and god of the sun. He was said to have borne the universe out of the waters of Nun. Nun was the state of existence that Egyptians thought was before Ra. It was complete silence and utter order 'til Ra created himself with words. He liked creating and speaking, and thus with his words created a mound of land which rose from the water. He called it "benben", and the tip of a pharaoh's pyramid represented this first mound. He was literally considered to be the sun, and every sunrise he would be born as a child and at the end of the day become an old man. He would also have to fight an evil serpent upon his boat during his journey. At noon he was considered his strongest point- a hero or warrior-looking god. Ra is a falcon-headed god.

Tefnut (Greek Tphenis) is one of Ra's first two children. Tefnut is a lion-headed goddess of rain and moisture, and she was said to have come from Ra's spittle.

Shu (No Greek name found) is the god of wind, and said to have been born from Ra's breath. He was very close to his sister and the two became consorts. His name could have meant dryness in the ancient Egyptian language.

Geb (No Greek name found) is the god of the earth- his body was quite literally considered to be the earth itself. When he was born with his sister Nut, the two were clamped tightly in embrace and didn't want to separate. Shu pushed them apart as he had to, and Geb became the earth and Nut the sky. Tefnut and Shu and Geb and Nut's parents.

Nut (No Greek name found) is the goddess of the sky. Like her brother, she was literally considered to be the sky. Her feminine arching body became the whole sky. Ra sailed across her form daily in his boat Manjet, completing his journey. Her body was usually shown as blue, and she would be represented as a young woman.

Set (Greek Seth) is the god of envy. He was envious of his brother Usir (Greek Osiris) for having Aset (Isis) as a wife. While Set had his own wife, he still longed for Aset. Usir was also very fond of Set's own son, (Inpu). The humans also adored Aset and Usir. All these things angered Set to the point that he tricked Usir by holding a banquet. He served bread and large amounts of beer. He tricked Usir into getting into an intricate box, closed the lid, and sealed it. He flung the box into the Nile River. When Aset finally found Usir's body and was elated to give him a proper burial, Set severed Usir's body into 14 pieces. In Egyptian culture, Usir would never be able to be whole in the afterlife as he was divided. Aset ended up finding all but one of the pieces, which the crocodile god Sobek (Souchos) had accidentally eaten. Set's head looks like a dog or jackal, maybe coyote.

Sobek (Greek Souchos) is the crocodile god. He is sometimes associated with being the god of the Nile, at other times he is associated with lust and more carnal desires. He's often represented in the form of a full crocodile, or a man with the head of a crocodile. Priests used to keep pools of crocodiles in temples and raises them as incarnations of Sobek. No harm was allowed to come to the animals.

Usir (Greek Osiris) is a rather famous god. He is the god and king of the underworld. He was often considered merciful in his judging of the dead and mortals. His depiction is iconic- he is portrayed with a pharaoh's beard, green skin, with a crook in one hand and a flail in the other. He was divided up into 14 pieces by Set, and when Aset couldn't find the last one (eaten by Sobek) it is said that she reconstructed it with wax. Once he became whole they consummated their love for just one night before he had to leave to the underworld again, and Usir's child formed in Aset's womb.

Inpu (Greek Anubis) is the god of funerary rites and embalmment. He is Set's son and Usir's nephew, and has a coyote or jackal's head in many if not all of his depictions. Inpu went to Duat because he was almost fascinated with death. He preformed funerary rites and judged the dead. When Usir was killed, he gave up the judging position to Usir. His coyote/jackal head was black, not yellow. He also took the complete form of the desert dog at times, although it was black too.

Nebet Hut (Greek Nephthys) is the wife of Set. She is the goddess of the night, lamentations, service, and death. Like Aset, she sometimes is portrayed with spread wings.

Hut Heru (Greek name not found) is the goddess of delight either portrayed as a young woman or a young woman with the head of a cow. She is also the eye of Ra, and she has a sort of alter ego that formed when Ra sent her to punish disobedient mortals. That other deity within her is Sekhmet, lioness goddess of revenge.

Sekhmet ( Greek Sachmis) is the goddess of revenge as well as healing. She takes the form of a lion to inflict vengeance on enemies of Egypt.

Tehuti/Dhejuty (Greek Thoth) is the god of wisdom. He is the tongue of Ra and is pictured with an ibis's head. He offers wisdom to the other gods, and is present on Ra's boat.

Aset (Greek Isis) is the goddess of many things. Health, marriage, magic, love, wisdom, the home, and women are among them. She is also said to rule over the living realm. Her husband is Usir. She once tricked Ra with magic, forcing him to give her his true name so he could name her ruler of the living realm. She did this to protect her son. She is pictured as a beautiful woman, sometimes with spread wings.

The Ka is a part of the soul, per se, in that it acts like a double of the body. The Ka had to eat and drink in the afterlife, so food was left in the tomb of a dead person. (The Egyptians were very materialistic people, not in a bad way but in the sense that they thought in a more physical matter.)

The Ba is part of the soul. It's like the personality.

Egyptian embalment rites were very sacred and took painstaking efforts. The body had to be washed with sweet-smelling oil or wine then rinsed with water. Then many of the body's internal organs were removed. (The body would be stuffed) The heart wasn't taken out of the body. It was considered the center of intelligence and vital to the afterlife. The body would then be oiled and preserved, properly wrapped, and after the organs dehydrated they would be wrapped with linen and returned to the body. The body would also be washed after forty days, oiled, then rewrapped. Sometimes the organs were placed in jars and buried with the person.

The Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the son of Ra. He was very noble and being divine himself his word would be law. He might even be worshipped publically. No doubt people would drop to their knees at the sight of a very god.

Egyptians believed that the spoken word was incredibly powerful in magic. Knowing the true name of something would give you complete power over it. Many people did not know their true names, themselves. Readers of Eragon or the Inheritance Cycle may recognize this!

The Egyptian afterlife was called Duat. Depending on your social class and deeds, or how much Ma'at (balance) you upheld in your life, you would be given different rewards in the afterlife. Pharaohs had to face trials upon death, and when they were completed they judged the dead as Usir for a time. The tombs were filled with personal possessions and gifts for the dead. Many pharaohs and nobles took live servants into the tomb and had it sealed; later this cruel practice was replace with having statues that contained the essence of the servants in the tomb. Upon the servant's death, they too would join their master in the afterlife and continue to serve them. Food was also placed in tombs, along with everything the Egyptians thought the dead would need in the afterlife.

Egyptians also believed consuming of blood allowed one to absorb another's power. This is grotesque, but at the time it was not believed so. Many legends of vampires sprung from these practices.

Thank you for reading! Blessed be!

Sources: My brain


Treasury of Egyptian Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli

National Geographic

Added to on Nov 15, 2014
Last edited on Aug 04, 2019
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