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Egyptian Gods

Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

Egyptian Gods

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The Egyptian Gods' Ruling, Forms and Doctrines

It is one of the ironies of ancient Egyptian religion that although we must cope with a dearth of archaeological evidence regarding the origin of the Egyptian gods, Egyptian texts of the later periods contain many clear yet often seemingly contradictory accounts of their mythic genesis, and rule of the cosmos. In recent years, many 
God Raising the Sun Disk, Egyptian Gods
A god raises the disk of the sun from the
earth into the heavens. Central to the Heli-
opolitan theology, the sun also played a
role in all Egyptian creation accounts.
Late Period Papyrus, Egyptian Museum
Egyptologists have come to feel that these varying accounts may not simply reflect the conflicting traditions of different cult centres, as has long been assumed, but can instead be seen as different aspects of an underly­ing understanding of how the world and its creator gods came into being. Certainly, there was no single,unified Egyptian myth of creation, but the major cosmogonies (stories of the origins of the universe) and theogonies (stories of the origins of the Egyptian gods) associated with the most important cult centres may be more alike than is at first apparent.

The Egyptian Gods' Latent power: the Hermopolitan view 
At Hermopolis in Middle Egypt there existed a developed myth of creation by means of eight original deities - the so-called 'Ogdoad' or 'group of eight' who represented aspects of the original cosmos. Although most of the surviving textual evidence for this view of creation comes from the Ptolemaic Period, the ancient name of Hermopolis, Khemnu or 'eight town', is attested from the 5th dynasty (and may well go back earlier) showing the antiquity of the myth.

The Egyptian Gods and the Natural Elements
According to the Hermopolitan view the eight primordial deities existed in four pairs of male and female, each associated with a specific aspect or element of the pre-creation: Nun (or Nu) and Naunet (water); Heh and Hauhet, Infinity; Kek and Kauket; Darkness; Amun and Amaunet, Hiddenness. These original 'elements' were believed to be inert yet to contain the potential for creation. James Hoffmeier has shown that interesting similarities exist between these elements and the conditions list immediately prior to the creation account in the biblical book of Genesis. In Egypt, however, the members of the Ogdoad were regarded as distinct divine entities and their names were grammatically masculine and feminine to reflect the equatin creation with sexual union and birth. They were called the "fathers" and "mothers" of the sun god, since this deity was the focal point of ongoing creation in the Hermopolitan world view - as he was elsewhere.

Just as the beginning of the annual season of growth has marked in Egypt by the Nile's receding imundation and emergence of high points of land from the falling river, so the Egyptians viewed the original creation event as occurring when the primordial mound of earth (see Tatenen) rose from the waters of the First Time. It was said that a lotus blossom (see Nefertem) then rose from the waters or from the same primeval mound; and it was from this flower that the young sun god emerged bringing light into the cosmos, and with it the beginning time and all further creation.

The Power of the Sun God; The Heliopolitan View of the Egyptian Gods
Heliopolis, the chief center of solar worship, produced a somewhat different mythic system built around the so-called ennead or "group of nine" deities which consisted of the sun god and eight of his descendants. The Heliopolitan theologians naturally stressed the role of the sun god in their creation stories which focus, as a result, not so much on the intert aspects of preexistence but on the dynamic aspects of the resultant creation itself. The form of the sun god usually associated with this creation was Atum, who was sometimes said to have existed within the primeval waters "in his egg" as a way of explaining the origin of the god. At the moment of creation Atum was said to have been born out of the primordial flood as "he who came into being himself", thus becoming the source of all further creation. The god next produced two children, Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture), from himself. Several versions of the story exist, but in all of them Atum's children are produced through the exhalation of the god's body fluids or mucus - either through the metaphor of masturbation, spitting or sneezing.

In return, this first pair produced their own children, Geb (earth) and Nut (Sky), who took their respective places below and above their parents, giving the creation its full spatial extent. Geb and Nut then produced the deities Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys who viewed from one perspective represented the fertile land of Egypt and the surrounding desert, so that the key elements of the Egyptian universe were completed at this time. Frequently the god Horus, son and heir of Osiris and the deity most closely associated with kingship, was added to this group, thus supplying the link between the physical creation and societal structures. All these aspects, however, were viewed as simply extensions of the original coming into being of the sun god who lay at the heart of this world view and who was thus 'the father of all' and 'ruler of the gods'.


While the scholars of Heliopolis focused mainly on the emergence and development of the sun god, Atum, the priests of nearby Memphis looked at creation from the perspective of their own god Ptah. As the god of metalworkers, craftsmen and architects it was natural that Ptah was viewed as the great craftsman who made all things. But there was also another, much deeper, link between Ptah the creation of the world which set the Memphite view of creation apart. The so-called Memphite Theology which is preserved on the Shabaka Stonein the Egyptian collection of the British Musem reveals this important aspect of the Memphite theological system. While the inscription dates to the 25th dynasty it was copied from a much earlier source, apparently of the early 19th dynasty, though its principles may have dated to even earlier times. The text alludes to the Heliopolitan creation account centred on the god Atum, but goes on to claim that the Memphite god Ptah preceded the sun god and that it was Ptah who created Atum and ultimately the other Egyptian gods and all else 'through his heart and through his tongue'. The expression alludes to the conscious planning of creation and its execution through rational thought and speech, and this story of creation ex nihilo as attributed to Ptah by the priests of Memphis is the earliest known example of the so-called 'logos' doctrine in which the world is formed through a god's creative speech. As such it was one of the most intellectual creation myth to arise in Egypt and in the ancient world as a whole.

Like Atum, however, Ptah was also viewed as combining male and female elements within himself. This is seen in early texts, and in the latest period of Egyptian history the name of the god was written acrophonically as pet-ta-heh or p(et)+t(a)+h(eh) as though he were supporting the sky (pet) above the earth (ta) in the manner of the Heh deities, but also bridging and combining the female element of the sky and the male element of the earth in the anarogynous manner of the primordial male-female duality Ptah-Naunet.


Egyptian Gods in Mythic Variants
As much as these three systems of comsogony and theogony differ in their details and in the stress placed upon differing deities by their own cults, it is clear that they all share a similar approach to creation. Although the differing approaches were apparently never combined into one unified myth, stories existed for many of the individual myths which fitted into the same overall ramework. In the stories stressing the solar origin of creation, for example, we find variants which proclaimed that the sun god came into being as a hawk or falcon, or as a sphoenix, in the form of a child, a scarab bettle, or some other creatures, but these all originated from the primeval waters or from the mound which rose from them. There are also variants of the manner in which the monad (the prime, indivisible entity) is said to have produced the rest of creation - a Middle Kingdom text found on coffins at el-Bersheh states of the 'All-lord': 'I brought into being the gods from my sweat, and men are the tears of my eye'; but these do not differ radically from those of Heliopolis considered above. To some extent all these stories appear as kaleidoscopic variations of core mythic elements, and may indicate an effort on the part of the Egyptian theologians to incorporate deities which had arisen in different parts of Egypt, or at different times, into existing mythic frameworks. It is often the nature of the creator deities and the basis of their power which is at issue in the varying stories of the origin and rule of the Egyptian gods.

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