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To gain an insight to the gods of the ancient civilizations one only has

to look at creation myths of the Egyptians and the Sumerians. It is


from these two great cultures that the later of Gods of Greece and
Rome were evolved. At school much time was devoted to the study of
"Ancient History" i.e. Greece and Rome, but no such time was spent
on the truly ancient histories of Egypt and Sumeria. It is here in the
middle east that these two great civilizations cast their vast shadows
over the many civilizations to follow.

The Cradle of Civilization.


Both the Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations over the millenia
evolved a rich, detailed and diverse mythology. Each culture
developed its own complex, polytheistic system of deities and
worship. But was there a convergence? Was there a starting point?

This the first in a series of Pages devoted to the Ancient Gods. In this
article I will look at the beginnings in Egypt, Zep Tepi

(the First Time).


So where to begin? One of the best sources on the history of Egypt is
Manetho, a priest during the reigns of Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II. He is
said to have been involved in the creation of the cult of Serapis - a
god added to the Egyptian pantheon with both Hellenistic and
Egyptian traits during the reign of Ptolemy I -, but this can not be
confirmed.

Manetho owes his importance to the fact that he wrote the


Aegyptiaca, a collection of three books about the history of Ancient
Egypt, commissioned by Ptolemy II in his effort to bring together the
Egyptian and Hellenistic cultures.

In order to do so, Manetho had access to the archives of the temple


where he served as a priest. Such archives contained a vast number
of different kinds of writings, ranging in contents from mythological
texts to official records, from magical formulas to scientific treaties.
He thus had all the sources he needed to write down the history of his
country. With such sources, however, we may not be surprised to find
myths and folk-tale mixed with the facts of the Egyptian history.

It is to Manetho's Aegyptiaca that we owe the division of Ancient


Egyptian history in 30 dynasties. This division is not always based on
historical facts: it was in parts based on mythology and in parts on
divisions of ruling families already established in the past.

Storytellers in cultures throughout time devote themselves to


answering that question by recalling the acts of divine creation.

In the land of Egypt, the ancient priests recited several versions, each
complementary story designed to highlight the various aspects of
divine creative energy.

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
One myth begins in the great abyss. The firmament as yet remained
hidden in the awesome, chaotic potentiality of the cosmic waters. All
lay in darkness, and forms remained invisible. Then Atum, the divine
Being and Non-being, cries out in the darkness. A thousand-petalled
lotus arose from the water’s murky depths. Its petals slowly unfurled,
and the golden light of the sun emerged as a child called Ra. His light
reflected onto Atum, so the priests said, “Only after Atum created Ra
was he visible even to himself.”

In another myth, it is the goddess Neith (or Net) who uplifts life from
the cosmic waters. She is the primordial sea and a great weaver. She
casts her net, which is the fabric of her being, into the water. From
the waters of herself, she scoops out all creatures— the fish, the fowl,
the plants and animals, and humankind. She names them one by
one.

A third myth tells us that in this sea of possibility there exist the
Ogdoad, who are eight cosmic life principles. Four male beings are
frogs; four female beings are snakes. Paired male and female, they
represent the polarities of infinite time, infinite space, darkness before
dawn, and the impenetrable mystery of life itself. These are the eight
souls of Thoth, divine architect of the universe whose laws govern all
creation.

One myth known as the creation myth (The First Time - Zep Tepi)
sums up a lot about how the Egyptian gods were created. In this
myth, it tells of a time when there was nothing but a powerful being
called Nun. Nun was so powerful that a shining egg arose from her,
which was Ra. Ra was thought to have been so mighty that he willed
his children into being. The first was Shu, who was considered the
god of the space and light between the sky and the earth. Next Ra
created Tefnut, who was the personification of the moisture of the
sky. Then the god of the earth, Geb was created. Next Nut was
created. Nut was the goddess of the daytime sky, but was later the
goddess of the sky in general. The final god to be made was Hapi,
the ancient Egyptian god of the Nile.

After all of the gods where created, Ra created men and went down
to earth in human form to rule as the first pharaoh of Egypt.
The Egyptians believed that before the world was
formed, there was a watery mass of dark, direction
less chaos. In this chaos lived the Ogdoad of
Khmunu (Hermopolis), four frog gods and four
snake goddesses of chaos. These deities were
Nun and Naunet (water), Amen and Amaunet
(invisibility), Heh and Hauhet (infinity) and Kek and
Kauket (darkness). The name of the water of chaos
was Nun.

It was from Nun (Nu) that Ra (or Amen, another of the Ogdoad who
became prominent Middle Kingdom onward, and joined with the sun
god as Amen-Ra) created himself, rising up on the first piece of land -
the primeval mound (Benben) out of the water lily (lotus) blossom,
born from the world egg, or as a bnw-bird who then found and landed
on the mound.

The First Time then began and Ra was thought to have created the
universe, including his children - other gods. He brought Ma'at - order
- to chaos.

In Egyptian mythology, the supreme sun-god, father of all


creation in the form of Atum (also called Ra-Tem or Ra-
Atem). Ra, like Horus, encompassed numerous attributes
and was often merged with other gods to form composite
gods like Amen-Ra (or Amun-Re). Pharaohs claimed
their legitimacy to the throne as descendents of Ra. The
center of his worship was the city of Heliopolis, which
was located just east of the modern city of Cairo.

Ra was the god of the sun during dynastic Egypt; the


name is thought to have meant "creative power", and as a proper
name "Creator", similar to English Christian usage of the term
"Creator" to signify the "almighty God." Very early in Egyptian history
Ra was identified with Horus, who as a hawk or falcon-god
represented the loftiness of the skies. Ra is represented either as a
hawk-headed man or as a hawk. In order to travel through the waters
of Heaven and the Underworld, Ra was depicted as traveling in a
boat.

During dynastic Egypt Ra's cult center was Annu (Hebrew "On",
Greek "Heliopolis", modern-day "Cairo"). In Dynasty V, the first king,
Userkaf, was also Ra's high priest, and he added the term Sa-Ra
("Son of Ra") to the titulary of the pharaohs.

Ra was father of Shu and Tefnut, grandfather of Nut and Geb, great-
grandfather of Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys, and great-great-
grandfather to Horus. In later periods (about Dynasty 18 on) Osiris
and Isis superceded him in popularity, but he remained Ra netjer-aa
neb-pet ("Ra, the great God, Lord of Heaven") whether worshiped in
his own right or, in later times, as one aspect of the Lord of the
Universe, Amen-Ra.

Shu (Su) was the god of dry air, wind and the
atmosphere. He was also related to the sun, possibly as
an aspect of sunlight. He was the son of the creator god,
father of the twin sky and the earth deities and the one
who held the sky off of the earth. He was one of the gods
who protected Ra on his journey through the underworld,
using magic spells to ward off Ra's enemy, the water
snake-demon Apep. As with other protector gods, he had
a darker side - he was also a god of punishment in the land of the
dead, leading executioners and torturers to kill off the corrupt souls.

He was generally depicted as a man wearing an ostrich feather


headdress, holding a scepter and the ankh sign of life. Sometimes he
was shown wearing the sun disk on his head, linking him to the sun.
Occasionally, when shown with his sister-wife Tefnut, he is shown in
lion form and the two were known as the "twin lion gods". At other
times, he was shown with the hind part of a lion as his headdress,
linking him to his leonine form. Mostly, he was shown with his arms
raised, holding up the goddess Nut as the sky, standing on the body
of Geb.

One story says that Shu and Tefnut went to explore the waters of
Nun. After some time, Ra believed that they were lost, and sent the
his Eye out into the chaos to find them. When his children were
returned to him, Ra wept, and his tears were believed to have turned
into the first humans.

As a god of the wind, the people invoked him to give good wind to the
sails of the boats. It was he who was the personification of the cold
northern winds; he was the breath of life - the vital principle of all
living things. His bones were thought to be clouds. He was also called
to 'lift up' the spirits of the dead so that they might rise up to the
heavens, known as the 'light land', reached by means of a giant
'ladder' that Shu was thought to hold up.

Tefnut (Tefenet, Tefnet) was the lunar goddess of


moisture, humidity and water who was also a solar
goddess connected with the sun and dryness (more
specifically, the absence of moisture). She was the
daughter of the creator god, mother of the twin sky and
the earth deities and the 'Eye of Ra' as well as a creative
force as the 'Tongue of Ptah'. Her name itself is related

to water - tf is the root of the words for 'spit' and 'moist'. Her
name translates to something like 'She of Moisture'.

Tefnut was generally shown as a woman with a lion's head, or as a


full lioness. She was occasionally shown as a woman, but this is rare.
She was shown with the solar disk and uraeus, linking her with the
sun. She was often shown holding a sceptre and the ankh sign of life.

Related to moisture, she was also linked to the moon, as were other
deities of moisture and wetness. She was originally thought to be the
Lunar Eye of Ra and thus linked to the night sky as well as to dew,
rain and mist.
As with other water deities, she took on some form of a goddess of
creation.

Geb, God of the Earth, In the Earth and Under the Earth...

Geb (Keb, Seb) was a god of the earth and fertility.


He was also a god who imprisoned the dead in his
body. He could be a malevolent being as well as
beneficial deity. Originally he was a local god,
worshiped as a goose, though the specific city
where he was first worshiped is unknown, it seems to have been
around the Iunu (On, Heliopolis) region.

Known as 'The Great Cackler', Geb sometimes took on the form of a


goose, but was usually shown as a man. Sometimes he was depicted
wearing the headdress of a goose, but more often he was shown as a
reclining man - sometimes ithphallyic - laying far underneath his
sister-wife, the goddess Nut. Sometimes he was coloured green to
show that, as with the ithphallyic form, he was a god of fertility. He
was also sometimes shown wearing the crown of Lower Egypt or the
atef crown.

As an earth god, the earthquakes were thought to be his laughter. It


was believed that he supplied the minerals and precious stones, and
so was also a god of the mines. The earth itself was referred to as
("The House of Geb").

Nut, Sky Goddess, Mother of the Gods...

To the ancient Egyptians Nut (Nuit) was the


personification of the sky (originally she was a
goddess of just the sky at day, where the clouds
formed) and the heavens. She was believed to be
the daughter of the gods Shu and Tefnut, the
granddaughter of the sun god Ra. Her husband
was also her brother, Geb. She was thought to be the mother of five
children on the five extra days of the Egyptian calendar, won by
Thoth - Osiris who was born on the first day, Horus the Elder on the
second,Set on the third, Isis on the fourth, and Nephthys the last born
on the fifth day. The days on which these deities were born were
known as the 'five epagomenal days of the year', and they were
celebrated all over Egypt:

Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South...

Hapi (Hep, Hap, Hapy) was a probably a pre-


dynastic name for the Nile - later on, the Egyptians
just called the Nile iterw, meaning 'the river' - and
so it became the name of the god of the Nile. ('Nile'
comes from the Greek corruption - Neilos - of the
Egyptian 'nwy' which means 'water'.) He was
mentioned in the Pyramid Texts ("who comest forth
from Hep") where he was to send the river into the
underworld from certain caverns, where he was
thought to have lived at the 1st Cataract. The Nile
was thought to have flowed from the primeval waters of Nun, through
the land of the dead, the heavens and finally flowing into Egypt where
it rose out of the ground between two mountains which lay between
the Islands of Abu (Elephantine) and the Island of Iat-Rek (Philae).
Hapi was also mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as a destructive
power, but one that worked for the pharaoh.

As a water god, Hapi was a deity of fertility - he provided water, food


and the yearly inundation of the Nile. He was also known as 'Lord of
the Fishes and Birds of the Marshes,'indicating that he provided
these creatures to the Egyptians along with the Nile itself. Without
Hapi, Egypt would have died, and so he was sometimes revered
even above Ra, the sun god.

Thoth, God of the Moon, Magic and Writing...


The wisest of the Egyptian gods was Thoth (Djhuty, Djehuty, Tehuty),
the baboon and ibis god of the moon. Thoth was the god who
overcame the curse of Ra, allowing Nut to give birth to her five
children, with his skill at games. It was he who helped Isis work the
ritual to bring Osiris back from the dead, and who drove the magical
poison of Set from her son, Horus with the power of his magic. He
was Horus' supporter during the young god's deadly battle with his
uncle Set, helping Horus with his wisdom and magic. It was Thoth
who brought Tefnut, who left Egypt for Nubia in a sulk after an
argument with her father, back to heaven to be reunited with Ra.

When Ra retired from the earth, he appointed


Thoth and told him of his desire to create a
Light-soul in the Duat and in the Land of the
Caves, and it was over this region that the sun
god appointed Thoth to rule, ordering him to
keep a register of those who were there, and to
mete out just punishments to them. Thoth
became the representation of Ra in the afterlife,
seen at the judgement of the dead in the 'Halls
of the Double' Ma'at. The magical powers of Thoth were so great, that
the Egyptians had tales of a 'Book of Thoth', which would allow a
person who read the sacred book to become the most powerful
magician in the world. The Book which "the god of wisdom wrote with
his own hand" was, though, a deadly book that brought nothing but
pain and tragedy to those that read it, despite finding out about the
"secrets of the gods themselves" and "all that is hidden in the stars".

Anubis (Inpew, Yinepu, Anpu) was an


ancient Egyptian god of the underworld
who guided and protected the spirits of
the dead. He was known as the 'Lord
of the Hallowed Land' - the necropolis -
and Khenty Amentiu, 'Foremost of the
Westerners' - the Land of the Dead
was thought to be to the west, where
the Egyptians buried their dead. (Khenty Amentiu was the name of a
previous canine deity who was superseded by Anubis.) The worship
of Anubis was an ancient one - it was probably even older than the
worship of Osiris. In the pyramid texts of Unas, his role was already
very clear - he was associated with the Eye of Horus and he was
already thought to be the guide of the dead in the afterlife, showing
them the way to Osiris. In the text, it was written that "Unas standeth
with the Spirits, get thee onwards, Anubis, into Amenti, onwards,
onwards to Osiris."

He was generally depicted as a black jackal-headed man, or as a


black jackal. The Egyptians would have noticed the jackals prowling
around the graveyards, and so the link between the animal and the
dead was formed in their minds. (It has been noticed by Flinders
Petrie that the best guides to Egyptian tombs are the jackal-trails.)
Anubis was painted black to further link him with the deceased - a
body that has been embalmed became a pitch black colour. Black
was also the colour of fertility, and thus linked to death and rebirth in
the afterlife. Anubis was also seen as the deity of embalming, as well
as a god of the dead. To the Egyptians, Anubis was the protector of
embalming and guardian of both the mummy and the necropolis.

Anubis was often identified by the word sab, 'jackal' rather than 'dog'
(iwiw). Though to the Egyptians there was not a great deal of
difference between the two canines, so there is some confusion over
which animal Anubis actually was. The animal is sometimes referred
to as the 'Anubis animal' as it is unknown which exact species of
canine that Anubis actually was based on.

Ma'at, Goddess of Truth, Balance, Order...

Ma'at, unlike Hathor and Nephthys, seemed to be more of a concept


than an actual goddess. Her name, literally, meant 'truth' in Egyptian.
She was truth, order, balance and justice personified. She was
harmony, she was what was right, she was what things should be. It
was thought that if Ma'at didn't exist, the universe
would become chaos, once again! For the Egyptian
believed that the universe was above everything
else an ordered and rational place. It functioned with predictability
and regularity; the cycles of the universe always remained constant;
in the moral sphere, purity was rewarded and sin was punished. Both
morally and physically, the universe was in perfect balance.

Because of Ma'at, the Egyptians knew that the universe, that


everything in the universe, worked on a pattern, just as, later on, the
Greeks called the underlying order of the universe logos (meaning,
order, pattern).

"In the beginning was the logos*, and the logos* was with God
and the logos* was God." - John 1:1

* Logos was the 'Word', another name for Jesus.

Egypt, then, was seen to be nothing without Ma'at.

Unlike the Sumerian belief in a group of gods creating everything,


Egyptians believed Ra created the earth and living things. Also
Egyptians, like the Sumerians, believed that their religious leaders
were actually gods themselves. Egyptians did not believe that there
was a patron god for each city although each god had a city that was
considered their center of worship. Also, unlike the Sumerians, the
Egyptians did not have a complex system of levels for their deities,
although some deities defiantly stand out as being the prominent
gods.

This is probably because those gods were thought to have affected


the everyday life of the Egyptians. Egyptian gods were worshiped in
huge temples that were scattered throughout Egypt. In many of these
temples hieroglyphic writings about many Egyptian gods, because of
this we now know an enormous amount of information about this
cultures' gods.