When it comes to Egyptian mythology the bulk of the attention always goes to Isis, Osiris, Set, Horus and that god of a thousand names, Ra AKA Amen Ra, etc. Balladeer’s Blog will, as usual, take a look at some of the unjustly overlooked gods and goddesses in a profoundly intriguing pantheon.
Naturally, anybody who’s into Egyptian myths will be VERY familiar with the following deities so this list is intended for people who are only familiar with the five figures mentioned above. For some of my other articles on mythology see these links:
SHINTO MYTH – https://glitternight.com/shinto-myth/
HAWAIIAN MYTH PART 2 – https://glitternight.com/2011/03/02/eleven-more-deities-from-hawaiian-mythology-2/
Plus see my pages on Navajo, Vietnamese, Inuit and Bunyoro myths.
11. SEBEK – The crocodile god. In some traditions Sebek was a son of the serpent god Set, but in others Set is sterile and incapable of siring offspring. Possessing the head of one of the creatures he was the lord of and a humanoid body, Sebek was often depicted traversing the Nile standing atop two crocodiles swimming side by side, with one foot planted on each. A sacred crocodile was kept in an artificial lake dug beside Sebek’s temple and fed offerings of food brought by worshippers.
10. TEFNUT – The goddess of moisture, a very precious commodity in semi-arrid parts of Egypt. Tefnut could choose to share her gift of moisture, fertilizing the land, or could choose to withhold it, bringing on drought. She and her brother/husband Shu, god of the air, were the first-born of the sun god Ra, springing either from his penis or his mouth (accounts vary). In other traditions Ra fathered the duo through intercourse with the goddess Hathor. Tefnut and Shu mated and produced the sky goddess Nut and the Earth god Geb.
9. NEFERTEM – The lotus god and the god of perfumes, often depicted holding a scepter that is a huge lotus. The center of his worship was at Memphis, where he was part of the divine Triad along with his parents, the lion goddess Sekhmet and the craftsman/artisan god Ptah (the very name Egypt came from Aegyptah, “land of Ptah” ). In Memphis cosmology Nefertem was so prominent because creation itself was sometimes said to spring from a celestial lotus. This is similar to Hindu myths in which Brahma the Creator is born from the lotus-womb of the goddess Lakshmi.
8. BASTET – The cat goddess, also called Bast. Depicted with the head of a cat, Bastet was considered the deity of pleasure and music as well. Her festivals were noted for their licentiousness, with female revelers often exposing themselves to celebrating parties on barges along the Nile. Because of their association with Bastet, cats were held in such high esteem in ancient Egypt that anyone killing a cat would be hanged, and if a fire broke out in a home, getting the household cat to safety was one of the top priorities.
7. KHNEMU – The ram-headed god who crafted the bodies of all living things on his celestial potter’s wheel. This process began in the womb (like with the Twelve Heavenly Midwives of Vietnamese myths) and continued through the formative years and into the physical decline of old age. Physical deformities were said to be rare errors by this divine moulder. The center of Khnemu’s worship was on the Isle of Elephantine in the Nile River. In some traditions the Nile’s source was a pair of springs in caverns beneath Elephantine. Thus, if Khnemu felt his worship was being neglected, he could withhold the life-giving waters of the Nile until he was appeased.
6. HAP – The god of the Nile River and in some traditions the son of Khnemu, but in others associated with the watery mass Nun from which Ra (or a lotus spawning Ra) emerged at the dawn of creation. Hap was depicted as a plump man wearing a headdress of aquatic plants and holding two vases (representing the two springs of his father Khnemu in my own speculation) from which the Nile waters flow.
This river god is also portrayed with pendulous female breasts and since the deity is often shown submerged up to its waist in the waters of the Nile there is some speculation that Hap was actually considered hermaphroditic. That would certainly be consistent with Hap’s association with Nun, since primordial creation often springs from a hermaphroditic entity in various pantheons. The god’s name is also spelled Hapi, but I left off the “i” to avoid confusion with Horus’ son Hapi.
5. MAAT – The ostrich-headed goddess of truth, morality, integrity and justice who is the wife of Thoth in some traditions. In the Book of the Dead Maat is depicted in dual form but is still considered one deity. When the soul of a deceased person would stand before the throne of Osiris, who ruled over the dead, Maat and the Forty-Two Judges would listen to the soul’s confession of its sins.
Afterward the heart of the deceased (which was removed at death) would be weighed against Maat’s ostrich feather on a scale. If the heart outweighed the feather it meant that the confession was insincere or incomplete and that the heart was still weighed down with sin. When this happened the soul of the deceased was devoured by the beast Amam and suffered eternal punishment.
4. ANUBIS – The god of the funerary arts and the psychopomp who assisted the souls of the dead in their journey to the afterlife. Anubis, who had the head of a jackal, was the son of Osiris by the goddess Nephthys, the wife of Set. Abandoned by his mother, Anubis was raised by the goddess Isis and accompanied her when she roamed the world retrieving the scattered parts of Osiris’ body after Set dismembered him. Anubis preserved each part as it was found, establishing his lordship of funerary rites and mummification.
The god was also said to escort the souls of the deceased on their journey through the various partitions of the subterranean realm of the dead. In some traditions Anubis is also the messenger of Osiris and had accompanied him on his early wanderings of the Earth, during which the later ruler of the dead taught humanity the secrets of agriculture.
3. NUT – The sky goddess. In an interesting switch from nearly all other pantheons of gods the Egyptians depicted the sky deity as female and the Earth deity as male, in this case Nut’s husband Geb. She and her husband were the children of the moisture goddess Tefnut and the god of the air Shu. Nut and Geb mated and produced the deities Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys.
In some myths Nut was originally the lover of her grandfather, the sun god Ra, who became jealous when Nut mated with Geb and assigned the air god Shu to separate the Earth and the sky (like Kane/Tane in Polynesian myths, Khong Lo in Vietnamese myths, etc) so they could no longer copulate. Shu continues to hold aloft the body of his mother, the heavens, like Atlas supported them in Greek myths. (Yes, Atlas held up the heavens, NOT the Earth. The image of Atlas holding up the Earth was a decorative tradition for early globes and had no place in the flat-Earth ideas of ancient times)
2. THOTH – The moon god and the inventor of hieroglyphics, which is how he came to be the scribe of the gods and the recorder of all history. Thoth, who was depicted with the head of an ibis, was considered the author of The Book of the Dead and of all magic spells and was thought to be the possessor of much arcane wisdom that was unknown even to his fellow deities. Arts and sciences were also considered to be under the authority of this versatile deity.
Calendars were another creation of this “Ben Franklin of the gods” and when the ancient Egyptians refined their calculations of the year from 360 days to 365, the explanation for the additional days was attributed to Thoth. That myth stated that Thoth, as god of the moon, took 1/72nd of the moon’s light and created the five additional days at the request of either Isis or Nut, depending on the version. Each night Thoth journeyed across the sky while the ark of the sun god Ra was engaged in its noctournal running fight through the realm of the dead.
1. HATHOR – The cow-headed goddess of birth and pregnancy, who conceived, brought forth and nourished the living. In some myths she mated with the sun god Ra and gave birth to the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut. Other myths portray Hathor taking her great-grandson Horus as a lover (shades of the goddess Haumea in Hawaiian myths), with their union producing the god Ihi, creator of the musical instrument called the sistrum.
Hathor was part of the huge company of gods who rode with Ra on the ark of the sun, and during the nightly journey through Tuat, the realm of the dead, Hathor nourished the souls of the deceased with her milk. The goddess’ main festival was held on New Year’s Day and by some accounts she was the mother of Heket, the frog-headed patron goddess of midwives.
The most unusual myth about Hathor depicts her charging through the world slaying all humanity at the behest of Ra (accounts vary as to why). The other gods sought to prevent complete annihilation of the human race and used beer (one of the gifts of Osiris as god of agriculture) to get Hathor drunk before she could finish her grim task.
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