The Egyptian Gods
Who was the protector of the dead and children? Who is associated with the domestic cat? Regardless of your faith, our 7 Top Egyptian Gods might inspire you to learn to read and write Hieroglyphs, explore the tarot and go on a fantastically marvellous journey…
My first interaction with the Egyptian Gods came at a young age sitting on my parent’s laps whilst they read me a story about a woman in a blue dress spangled with stars. She also had wings! This was Nut and the tale was Nuts children – the story of how Ra cursed her to be childless after Thoth (God of Wisdom, we’ll come onto him later) told Ra that his place as ruler would be taken by one of Nuts children. Ra’s cruel curse ran thus: Nut will remain childless, as she will give birth to no child on any day in the year, neither on any night. I have spoken and so it will be.” It was gripping stuff, and you can see how as a child I became transfixed by the celestial adventures and symbolic depths of the Egyptian gods.
From there I discovered more myths, more Gods and an ancient Egyptian Tarot Deck. My sister gave me a horde of statues of the Egyptian Gods. I gave her a necklace of Bast, and she gave me a scarab pendant (it sounds so much better than ‘dung beetle’, which is what a scarab actually is) with a Wedjat (Eye of Horus) on the back of the pendant as well as a copy of the The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead! From her I learned to read and write Hieroglyphs (my sister is like Evie from ‘The Mummy’ without the clumsiness) and thus began a life long fascination…
Anyone who’s interested in Egyptian mythology finds their own path. Like all religions, it uses stories to explain natural events like the waxing and waning of the moon. Like most pagan religions, it splits human attributes and achievements into different gods that you can attune yourself to as you see fit. Creative types often fall for Thoth, creator of the world (and music, and language, and a bunch of other cool stuff). Geeks and librarians might respond well to Thoth’s lady wife Seshat, part style icon in her foxy leopard hide and all accountant (she was the ultimate keeper of records).
As with all pagan mythologies, studying Egyptian gods can help you figure out what sort of person you currently are and what sort of person you’d like to become. You can then devise your own means of achieving those paths, whether spiritually, through rituals for example, or by taking action in the mundane world, like taking a librarianship degree or asking someone you fancy for a date.
It’s all up to you. But getting into Egyptian mythology really does start with the stories, and with the Gods. So, without further ado, I will give a basic list of the more well known of the Egyptian Gods and their attributes. Make of them what you will. The rest is up to you!
The first of Nuts children, born on the first day that did not exist before a moon God lost a bet (a great story for learning the dangers of gambling.)
Osiris began as God of the Underworld. He was not only a merciful judge upon death, but was also behind bringing life, the flooding of the Nile and the sprouting of crops. He’s often depicted with green skin, a pharaohs beard and embalmed legs while holding the instantly recognizable crook and flail. Osiris wore a crown mounted with Ostrich feathers, he fathered children posthumously, he’s commonly viewed as a God of regeneration and rebirth… He was the father of Horus, and victim of his brother Set who murdered him for his throne in The Myth of Isis & Osiris.
Osiris was brought back to life briefly by his wife Isis, so that he could make her pregnant (she bore the child-God Horus).
Isis was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife. As well as being the matron of magic and nature she was a friend to artists, slaves and the downtrodden… but would also listen to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens and rulers. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the flooding of the Nile was due to the tears Isis shed for husband Osiris, whose death and rebirth was played out annually by the ancient Egyptians. She is seen as the protector of the dead and children.
Anubis is the jackal-headed God of the afterlife and mummification. He is probably most well known as the Guardian of the scales (a scene from the The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead depicts him weighing a persons heart against Maat (the goddess of Justice and Truth) who is often depicted as an ostrich feather).
Anubis decided the fate of the deceased. He would greet those making their last perilous journey through the afterlife and lead them to The hall of two truths wherein the heart was weighed against truth. If the person had lived well they went onto the afterlife; if they had not they were devoured by a fierce creature known, somewhat cthulhically, The great swallower.
Maat was the Egyptian Goddess of Justice, truth, morality, law and “divine wisdom”. She also regulated the action of both mortals and the deities who created order from chaos when the universe was first created. Aside from ensuring that creation does not plunge back into chaos, Ma’at’s other great duty was helping to weigh the souls of those that had passed on.
Bast (Bastet) was originally depicted with the head of a lioness, and was seen as protector of lower Egypt and Pharaoh. Her place in the pantheon diminished as a similar lion-headed Goddess Sekhmet, a war goddess, became more popular in the now unified culture of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Bast became associated with the domestic cat around the first century B.C. Sometimes shown holding a lioness mask (hinting at her potential ferocity) Basts was believed to be an excellent mother and was depicted with numerous kittens. A woman who wanted to bear children would wear an amulet engraved with an image of Bast with kittens, the number of kittens symbolising the number of children the woman wished to have. Bast is viewed as a protector of both mothers and children.
To the Ancient Egyptians, Hathor personified love, beauty, motherhood, music and joy. She proved to be one of the most popular deities worshipped throughout the history of Ancient Egypt. In tombs she is depicted welcoming the dead into the afterlife as Mistress of the West.
Hathor was believed to aid women in childbirth and was the goddess of music, foreign lands, dance and miners. It’s interesting to think how a goddess might have ended up with such a wide spectrum of duties as representing music and miners. Hathor is often depicted as a cow goddess, wearing a headdress with horns and sun disk.
Taking Egyptian mythology further
The varying myths of the Gods were not viewed as contradictory but rather as complementary with the deities blending together for any number of reasons, whilst at the same time retaining their own separate strands within the pantheon. Interest in the Egyptian deities has grown in recent years, and they are worshipped once again by some members of the Neo-Pagan movement among others. If you’re based in the UK, the Pagan Federation has plenty of members that have an active and spiritual interest in Egyptian mythology. If you’re London-based, you can check out various talks and soirees open to a pagan-friendly public at Secret Chiefs.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, it never hurts to find out a little more, and – let’s face it – learning how to read and write hieroglyphs is one of the few ways to become a modern Indiana Jones.
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