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Mythology and Folklore

Egyptian Mythology

hawk wings, god Anubis, sacred animals, religion of ancient Egypt, Nephthys

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Egyptian Mythology, specifically, the religion of ancient Egypt. The religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians were the dominating influence in the development of their culture, although a true religion, in the sense of a unified theological system, never existed among them. The Egyptian faith was based on an unorganized collection of ancient myths, nature worship, and innumerable deities. In the most influential and famous of these myths a divine hierarchy is developed and the creation of the earth is explained.

Creation

According to the Egyptian account of creation, only the ocean existed at first. Then Ra, the Sun, came out of an egg (a flower, in some versions) that appeared on the surface of the water. Ra brought forth four children, the gods Shu and Geb and the goddesses Tefnut and Nut. Shu and Tefnut became the atmosphere. They stood on Geb, who became the Earth, and raised up Nut, who became the sky. Ra ruled over all. Geb and Nut later had two sons, Set and Osiris, and two daughters, Isis and Nephthys. Osiris succeeded Ra as king of the Earth, helped by Isis, his sister-wife. Set, however, hated his brother and killed him. Isis then embalmed her husbandís body with the help of the god Anubis, who thus became the god of embalming. The powerful charms of Isis resurrected Osiris, who became king of the netherworld, the land of the dead. Horus, who was the son of Osiris and Isis, later defeated Set in a great battle and became king of the Earth.

Iconography

The Egyptian gods were represented with human torsos and human or animal heads. Sometimes the animal or bird expressed the characteristics of the god. Ra, for example, had the head of a hawk, and the hawk was sacred to him because of its swift flight across the sky; Hathor, the goddess of love and laughter, was given the head of a cow, which was sacred to her; Anubis was given the head of a jackal because these animals ravaged the desert graves in ancient times; Mut was vulture-headed and Thoth was ibis-headed; and Ptah was given a human head, although he was occasionally represented as a bull, called Apis. Because of the gods to which they were attached, the sacred animals were venerated, but they were never worshiped until the decadent 26th Dynasty. The gods were also represented by symbols, such as the Sun disk and hawk wings that were worn on the headdress of the pharaoh.

Contributors

Dyson, Robert H., Jr., Ph.D.

Professor of Anthropology and Curator, Near Eastern Section, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania. Coauthor of "Ancient Iran".



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