Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The sun gods in Egypt

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 17, 2014

Ar means sun, Aries, the ram – Aratta, Urartu/Urashtu, Armenia

Sun Gods and Sun Goddesses

List of solar deities

Solar deity

The Egyptian peoples honored the sun god. For people in ancient Egypt, the sun was a source of life. It was power and energy, light and warmth. It was what made the crops grow each season, so it is no surprise that the cult of the sun had immense power and was widespread.

Sun worship was prevalent in ancient Egyptian religion. The earliest deities associated with the sun are all goddesses: Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. First Hathor, and then Isis, give birth to and nurse Horus and Ra. Hathor the horned-cow is one of the 12 daughters of Ra, gifted with joy and is a wet-nurse to Horus.

Ra was the ruler of the heavens. He was the god of the sun, the bringer of light, and patron to the pharaohs. According to legend, the sun travels the skies as Ra drives his chariot through the heavens. Although he originally was associated only with the midday sun, as time went by, Ra became connected to the sun’s presence all day long.

There may be more than one god of the sun. The Egyptians differentiated among the aspects of the sun, and had several gods associated with it: Khepri for the rising sun, Atum, the setting, and Ra, at noon, who rode across the sky in a solar bark.

The Sun’s movement across the sky represents a struggle between the Pharaoh’s soul and an avatar of Osiris. Ra travels across the sky in his solar-boat; at dawn he drives away the demon Apep of darkness. The “solarisation” of several local gods (Hnum-Re, Min-Re, Amon-Re) reaches its peak in the period of the fifth dynasty.

Rituals to the god Amun who became identified with the sun god Ra were often carried out on the top of temple pylons. A Pylon mirrored the hieroglyph for ‘horizon’ or akhet, which was a depiction of two hills “between which the sun rose and set”, associated with recreation and rebirth.

On the first Pylon of the temple of Isis at Philae, the pharaoh is shown slaying his enemies in the presence of Isis, Horus and Hathor. In the eighteenth dynasty, Akhenaten changed the polytheistic religion of Egypt to a monotheistic one, Atenism of the solar-disk and is the first recorded state monotheism. All other deities were replaced by the Aten, including Amun-Ra, the reigning sun god of Akhenaten’s own region. Unlike other deities, the Aten did not have multiple forms. His only image was a disk—a symbol of the sun.

Soon after Akhenaten’s death, worship of the traditional deities was reestablished by the religious leaders (Ay the High-Priest of Amen-Ra, mentor of Tutankhaten/Tutankhamen) who had adopted the Aten during the reign of Akhenaten.

Utu (Akkadian rendition of Sumerian UD “Sun”, Assyro-Babylonian Shamash “Sun”) is the Sun god in Sumerian mythology, the son of the moon god Nanna and the goddess Ningal. His brother and sisters are Ishkur and the twins Inanna and Ereshkigal.

Utu is the god of the sun, justice, application of law, and the lord of truth. He is usually depicted as wearing a horned helmet and carrying a saw-edged weapon not unlike a pruning saw.

It is thought that every day, Utu emerges from a mountain in the east, symbolizing dawn, and travels either via chariot or boat across the Earth, returning to a hole in a mountain in the west, symbolizing sunset.

Every night, Utu descends into the underworld to decide the fate of the dead. He is also depicted as carrying a mace, and standing with one foot on a mountain. Its symbol is “sun rays from the shoulders, and or sun disk or a saw”.

The sun god is only modestly mentioned in Sumerian mythology with one of the notable exceptions being the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the myth, Gilgamesh seeks to establish his name with the assistance of Utu, because of his connection with the cedar mountain.

Gilgamesh and his father, Lugalbanda were kings of the first dynasty of Uruk, a lineage that Jeffrey H. Tigay suggested could be traced back to Utu himself. He further suggested that Lugalbanda’s association with the sun-god in the Old Babylonian version of the epic strengthened “the impression that at one point in the history of the tradition the sun-god was also invoked as an ancestor”. Marduk is spelled AMAR.UTU in Sumerian, literally, “the calf of Utu” or “the young bull of the Sun”.

As part of the cult of Mithra, early Persian societies celebrated the rising of the sun each day. The legend of Mithra may well have given birth to the Christian resurrection story. Honoring the sun was an integral part of ritual and ceremony in Mithraism, at least as far as scholars have been able to determine. One of the highest ranks one could achieve in a Mithraic temple was that of heliodromus, or sun-carrier.

The Greeks honored Helios, who was similar to Ra in his many aspects. Homer describes Helios as “giving light both to gods and men.” The cult of Helios celebrated each year with an impressive ritual that involved a giant chariot pulled by horses off the end of a cliff and into the sea.

The Etruscan god of the Sun, equivalent to Helios, was Usil. His name appears on the bronze liver of Piacenza, next to Tiur, the moon. He appears, rising out of the sea, with a fireball in either outstretched hand, on an engraved Etruscan bronze mirror in late Archaic style, formerly on the Roman antiquities market. On Etruscan mirrors in Classical style, he appears with a halo.

Osiris (The ram god)

Osiris is an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. He was at times considered the oldest son of the Earth god Geb, and the sky goddess Nut, as well as being brother and husband of Isis, with Horus being considered his posthumously begotten son.

He was also associated with the epithet Khenti-Amentiu, which means “Foremost of the Westerners” — a reference to his kingship in the land of the dead. As ruler of the dead, Osiris was also sometimes called “king of the living”, since the Ancient Egyptians considered the blessed dead “the living ones”.

Osiris was considered the brother of Isis, Set, Nephthys, Horus the Elder and father of Horus the younger. Osiris is first attested in the middle of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt, although it is likely that he was worshipped much earlier; the term Khenti-Amentiu dates to at least the first dynasty, also as a pharaonic title.

Osiris was considered not only a merciful judge of the dead in the afterlife, but also the underworld agency that granted all life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. He was described as the “Lord of love”, “He Who is Permanently Benign and Youthful” and the “Lord of Silence”.

The Kings of Egypt were associated with Osiris in death — as Osiris rose from the dead they would, in union with him, inherit eternal life through a process of imitative magic. By the New Kingdom all people, not just pharaohs, were believed to be associated with Osiris at death, if they incurred the costs of the assimilation rituals.

Through the hope of new life after death, Osiris began to be associated with the cycles observed in nature, in particular vegetation and the annual flooding of the Nile, through his links with the heliacal rising of Orion and Sirius at the start of the new year. Osiris was widely worshipped as Lord of the Dead until the suppression of the Egyptian religion during the Christian era.

One of the oldest attestations of the god Osiris appears in the mastaba of the deceased Netjer-wser (God Almighty). David Lorton (1985) proposed that Wsjr is composed by the morphemes set-jret signifying “ritual activity”, Osiris being the one who receives it. Wolfhart Westendorf (1987) proposed an etymology from Waset-jret “she who bears the eye”.

He was classically depicted as a green (the color of rebirth) or black (alluding to the fertility of the Nile floodplain) or complexioned pharaoh in mummiform (wearing the trappings of mummification from chest downward) with a pharaoh’s beard. He was also depicted rarely as a lunar god with a crown encompassing the moon.

Osiris is represented in his most developed form of iconography wearing the Atef crown, which is similar to the White crown of Upper Egypt, but with the addition of two curling ostrich feathers at each side.

Crook and flail

He also carries the crook and flail. The crook is thought to represent Osiris as a shepherd god. The symbolism of the flail is more uncertain with shepherds whip, fly-whisk, or association with the god Andjety of the ninth nome of Lower Egypt, thought to have been a precursor of Osiris, proposed. Like Osiris he is depicted holding the crook and flail and has a crown similar to Osiris’s Atef crown.

The crook (heka) and flail (nekhakha) were originally the attributes of the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris that became insignia of pharaonic authority. The shepherd’s crook stood for kingship and the flail for the fertility of the land.

Traditionally crossed over the chest when held, they probably represented the ruler as a shepherd whose beneficence is formidably tempered with might. In the interpretation of Toby Wilkinson the flail, used to goad livestock, was a symbol of the ruler’s coercive power: as shepherd of his flock, the ruler encouraged his subjects as well as restraining them.

Still another interpretation, by E. A. Wallis Budge, is that the flail is what was used to thresh grain. The earliest known example of a royal crook is from the Gerzeh culture and comes from tomb U547 in Abydos. By late Predynastic times the shepherd’s crook was already an established symbol of rule. Flail initially remained separate, being depicted alone on some earliest representations of royal ceremonial. Approximately by the time of the Second Dynasty the crook and flail became paired.

The only extant pharaonic examples of both the crook and flail come from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Their staffs are made of heavy bronze covered with alternating stripes of blue glass, obsidian and gold, while the flail’s beads are made of gilded wood.

Father of the god Horus

Osiris is the mythological father of the god Horus, whose conception is described in the Osiris myth, a central myth in ancient Egyptian belief. The myth described Osiris as having been killed by his brother Set, who wanted Osiris’ throne.

Isis joined the fragmented pieces of Osiris, but the only body part missing was the phallus. Isis fashioned a golden phallus, and briefly brought Osiris back to life by use of a spell that she learned from her father.

This spell gave her time to become pregnant by Osiris before he again died. Isis later gave birth to Horus. As such, since Horus was born after Osiris’ resurrection, Horus became thought of as a representation of new beginnings and the vanquisher of the evil Set.

Ptah-Seker (who resulted from the identification of Ptah, the creator god, with Seker), god of re-incarnation, thus gradually became identified with Osiris, the two becoming Ptah-Seker-Osiris. As the sun was thought to spend the night in the underworld, and was subsequently re-incarnated every morning, Ptah-Seker-Osiris was identified as both king of the underworld, and god of reincarnation.

Ram god

Osiris’ soul, or rather his Ba, was occasionally worshipped in its own right, almost as if it were a distinct god, especially in the Delta city of Mendes. This aspect of Osiris was referred to as Banebdjedet, which is grammatically feminine (also spelt “Banebded” or “Banebdjed”), literally “the ba of the lord of the djed, which roughly means The soul of the lord of the pillar of continuity.

The djed, a type of pillar, was usually understood as the backbone of Osiris, and, at the same time, as the Nile, the backbone of Egypt. The Nile, supplying water, and Osiris (strongly connected to the vegetation) who died only to be resurrected, represented continuity and stability.

Ba does not mean “soul” in the western sense, and has to do with power, reputation, force of character, especially in the case of a god. Since the Ba was associated with power, and also happened to be a word for ram in Egyptian, Banebdjed was depicted as a ram, or as Ram-headed.

A living, sacred ram, was kept at Mendes and worshipped as the incarnation of the god, and upon death, the rams were mummified and buried in a ram-specific necropolis. Banebdjed was consequently said to be Horus’ father, as Banebdjed was an aspect of Osiris.

Regarding the association of Osiris with the ram, the god’s traditional crook and flail are the instruments of the shepherd, which has suggested to some scholars also an origin for Osiris in herding tribes of the upper Nile. The crook and flail were originally symbols of the minor agricultural deity Andjety, and passed to Osiris later. From Osiris, they eventually passed to Egyptian kings in general as symbols of divine authority.


The cult of Osiris (who was a god chiefly of regeneration and rebirth) had a particularly strong interest in the concept of immortality. Plutarch recounts one version of the myth in which Set (Osiris’ brother), along with the Queen of Ethiopia, conspired with 72 accomplices to plot the assassination of Osiris.

Set fooled Osiris into getting into a box, which Set then shut, sealed with lead, and threw into the Nile (sarcophagi were based on the box in this myth). Osiris’ wife, Isis, searched for his remains until she finally found him embedded in a tamarind tree trunk, which was holding up the roof of a palace in Byblos on the Phoenician coast. She managed to remove the coffin and open it, but Osiris was already dead.

In one version of the myth, she used a spell learned from her father and brought him back to life so he could impregnate her. Afterwards he died again and she hid his body in the desert. Months later, she gave birth to Horus. While she raised Horus, Set was hunting one night and came across the body of Osiris.

Enraged, he tore the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout the land. Isis gathered up all the parts of the body, less the phallus (which was eaten by a catfish) and bandaged them together for a proper burial.

The gods were impressed by the devotion of Isis and resurrected Osiris as the god of the underworld. Because of his death and resurrection, Osiris was associated with the flooding and retreating of the Nile and thus with the crops along the Nile valley.

Diodorus Siculus gives another version of the myth in which Osiris was described as an ancient king who taught the Egyptians the arts of civilization, including agriculture, then travelled the world with his sister Isis, the satyrs, and the nine muses, before finally returning to Egypt.

Osiris was then murdered by his evil brother Typhon, who was identified with Set. Typhon divided the body into twenty-six pieces, which he distributed amongst his fellow conspirators in order to implicate them in the murder.

Isis and Hercules (Horus) avenged the death of Osiris and slew Typhon. Isis recovered all the parts of Osiris’ body, except the phallus, and secretly buried them. She made replicas of them and distributed them to several locations, which then became centres of Osiris worship.

A sarcophagus (plural, sarcophagi) is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved in stone, and displayed above ground, though it may also be buried. Sarcophagi were originally called neb-ankh by the ancient Egyptians, in what is usually translated today as “lord of life”, or “possessor of life”.

According to Wilson, Khonsura A. in Encyclopedia of African religion, the term could also be applied as “a (personal and/or honorific) title or (…) (could) refer to one’s most prized possession”.

Sarcophagi were most often designed to remain above ground. In Ancient Egypt, a sarcophagus formed the outer layer of protection for a royal mummy, with several layers of coffins nested within, and was often carved out of alabaster. All were usually decorated with painted or carved representations of the deceased.

Ptah (Sumerian Enki)

In Egyptian mythology, Ptah (Egyptian: ptḥ, probably vocalized as Pitaḥ in ancient Egyptian) is the demiurge of Memphis, god of craftsmen and architects. He is the patron of craftsmanship, metalworking, carpenters, shipbuilders, and sculpture.

Ptah is the creator god par excellence: He is considered the demiurge which existed before all things and by his willfulness thought the world. It was first conceived by Thought, and realized by the Word: Ptah conceives the world by the thought of his heart and gives life through the magic of his Word.

That which Ptah commanded was created, with which the constituents of nature, fauna, and flora, are contained. He also plays a role in the preservation of the world and the permanence of the royal function.

Like many deities of ancient Egypt he takes many forms, through one of his particular aspects or through syncretism of ancient deities of the Memphite region. Ptah is generally represented in the guise of a man with green skin, contained in a shroud sticking to the skin, wearing the divine beard, and holding a sceptre combining three powerful symbols of Egyptian mythology: The Was scepter, the sign of life, Ankh and the Djed pillar. These three combined symbols indicate the three creative powers of the god: power (was), life (ankh) and stability (djed).

He got frequently associated with the god Bes, also spelled as Bisu, an Ancient Egyptian deity worshipped as a protector of households, and in particular, of mothers and children and childbirth. Bes later came to be regarded as the defender of everything good and the enemy of all that is bad.

His Tatenen form is represented by a young and vigorous man wearing a crown with two tall plumes that surround the solar disk. He thus embodies the underground fire that rumbles and raises the earth. As such, he was particularly revered by metalworkers and blacksmiths, but he was equally feared because it was he who caused earthquakes and tremors of the earth’s crust. In this form also, Ptah is the master of ceremonies for Heb Sed, a ceremony traditionally attesting to the first thirty years of the Pharaoh’s reign.

In the triad of Memphis, Ptah is the spouse of Sekhmet and the father of Nefertum. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, he was one of five major Egyptian gods with Ra, Isis, Osiris and Amun.

The English name Egypt derives from an ancient Egyptian name for Memphis, Hikuptah, which means “Home of the Soul of Ptah”. This entered Ancient Greek as Αιγυπτος (Aiguptos), which entered Latin as Ægyptus, which developed into English as Egypt.


Nefertem, possibly “beautiful one who closes” or “one who does not close”; also spelled Nefertum or Nefer-temu) was, in Egyptian mythology, originally a lotus flower at the creation of the world, who had arisen from the primal waters. Nefertem the child comes from his earth father Nun’s black primordial waters, and his sky mother is Nut. When he matures, he is Ra.

Nefertem represented both the first sunlight and the delightful smell of the Egyptian blue lotus flower, having arisen from the primal waters within an Egyptian blue water-lily, Nymphaea caerulea. Some of the titles of Nefertem were “He Who is Beautiful” and “Water-Lily of the Sun”, and a version of the Book of the Dead says: “Rise like Nefertem from the blue water lily, to the nostrils of Ra (the creator and sungod), and come forth upon the horizon each day.”

Nefertum was eventually seen as the son of the creator god Ptah, and the goddesses Sekhmet and Bastet were sometimes called his mother. In art, Nefertum is usually depicted as a beautiful young man having blue water-lily flowers around his head. As the son of Bast, he also sometimes has the head of a lion or is a lion or cat reclining. The ancient Egyptians often carried small statuettes of him as good-luck charms.

Bastet and Sekhmet 

Bastet, also spelled Baast, Ubaste, and Baset, was a goddess in ancient Egyptian religion, worshipped as early as the Second Dynasty (2890 BC). As Bast, she was the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, the Nile River delta region, before the unification of the cultures of ancient Egypt.

The two uniting cultures had deities that shared similar roles and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet, also spelled Sakhmet, Sekhet, or Sakhet, among other spellings, was the parallel warrior lioness deity to Bast. Often similar deities merged into one with the unification, but that did not occur with these deities with such strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to diverge.

During the Twenty-Second Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast had changed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. Bastet, the name associated with this later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer to this deity.

Sekhmet was originally the warrior goddess as well as goddess of healing for Upper Egypt. She is depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians. It was said that her breath formed the desert. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare.

Her cult was so dominant in the culture that when the first pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty, Amenemhat I, moved the capital of Egypt to Itjtawy, the centre for her cult was moved as well. Religion, the royal lineage, and the authority to govern were intrinsically interwoven in Ancient Egypt during its approximately three millennia of existence.

Sekhmet is also a solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of the sun god Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bast. She bears the solar disk and the uraeus which associates her with Wadjet and royalty. With these associations she can be construed as being a divine arbiter of the goddess Ma’at (Justice, or Order) in the Judgment Hall of Osiris, associating her with the Wedjat (later the Eye of Ra), and connecting her with Tefnut as well.

Banebdjedet (ram)

In a chapel in the Ramesseum, a stela records how the god Ptah took the form of Banebdjedet, an Ancient Egyptian ram god with a cult centre at Mendes, in view of his virility, in order to have union with the woman who would conceive Rameses II. It was the sexual connotations associated with his cult that led early Christians to demonise Banebdjedet.

His wife was the goddess Hatmehit (“Foremost of the Fishes”) who was perhaps the original deity of Mendes. Their offspring was “Horus the Child” and they formed the so-called “Mendesian Triad”.

Typically Banebdjedet was depicted with four rams’ heads to represent the four Ba’s of the sun god. He may also be linked to the first four gods to rule over Egypt (Osiris, Geb, Shu and Ra-Atum), with large granite shrines to each in the Mendes sanctuary.

The Book of the Heavenly Cow describes the “Ram of Mendes” as being the Ba of Osiris but this was not an exclusive association. A story dated to the New Kingdom describes him as being consulted by the “Divine Tribunal” to judge between Horus and Seth but he proposes that Neith do it instead as an act of diplomacy. As the dispute continues it is Banebdjedet who suggests that Seth be given the throne as he is the elder brother.

Khnum (ram)

Khnum, originally the god of the source of the Nile River, was the equivalent god of Banebdjedet in Upper Egypt. Since the annual flooding of the Nile brought with it silt and clay, and its water brought life to its surroundings, it was thought that Khnum was to be the creator of the bodies of human children, which he made at a potter’s wheel, from clay, and placed in their mothers’ wombs. He later was described as having moulded the other deities, and he had the titles Divine Potter and Lord of created things from himself.

Khnum is the third aspect of Ra. Khnum is sometimes referred to as the “father of the fathers” and Neith as the “mother of the mothers”. They later become the parents of Re, who is also referred to as Khnum-Re.

He is the god of rebirth, creation and the evening sun, although this is usually the function of Atum. The Beit el-Wali temple of Ramesses II contained statues of Khnum, Satis and Anukis, along with statues of Isis and Horus.

In other locations, such as Her-wer (Tuna el-Gebel perhaps), as the moulder and creator of the human body, he was sometimes regarded as the consort of Heket, or of Meskhenet, whose responsibility was breathing life into children at the moment of birth, as the Ka.

In art, he was usually depicted as a ram-headed man at a potter’s wheel, with recently created children’s bodies standing on the wheel, although he also appeared in his earlier guise as a water-god, holding a jar from which flowed a stream of water. However, he occasionally appeared in a compound image, depicting the elements, in which he, representing water, was shown as one of four heads of a man, with the others being, – Geb representing earth, Shu representing the air, and Osiris representing death.

Atum (serpentine)

Atum, sometimes rendered as Atem or Tem, is an important deity in Egyptian mythology. Atum is one of the most important and frequently mentioned deities from earliest times, as evidenced by his prominence in the Pyramid Texts, where he is portrayed as both a creator and father to the king.

His name is thought to be derived from the word tem which means to complete or finish. Thus he has been interpreted as being the ‘complete one’ and also the finisher of the world, which he returns to watery chaos at the end of the creative cycle. As creator he was seen as the underlying substance of the world, the deities and all things being made of his flesh or alternatively being his ka.

In the Heliopolitan creation myth, Atum was considered to be the first god, having created himself, sitting on a mound (benben) (or identified with the mound itself), from the primordial waters (Nu).

In the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed that Atum lifted the dead king’s soul from his pyramid to the starry heavens. He was also a solar deity, associated with the primary sun god Ra. Atum was linked specifically with the evening sun, while Ra or the closely linked god Khepri were connected with the sun at morning and midday.

In the Book of the Dead, which was still current in the Graeco-Roman period, the sun god Atum is said to have ascended from chaos-waters with the appearance of a snake, the animal renewing itself every morning.

Atum is the god of pre-existence and post-existence. In the binary solar cycle, the serpentine Atum is contrasted with the ram-headed scarab Khepri—the young sun god, whose name is derived from the Egyptian hpr “to come into existence”. Khepri-Atum encompassed sunrise and sunset, thus reflecting the entire solar cycle.

Atum was a self-created deity, the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that existed before creation. A product of the energy and matter contained in this chaos, he created his children—the first deities, out of loneliness. He produced from his own sneeze, or in some accounts, semen, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture.

The brother and sister, curious about the primeval waters that surrounded them, went to explore the waters and disappeared into the darkness. Unable to bear his loss, Atum sent a fiery messenger, the Eye of Ra, to find his children. The tears of joy he shed on their return were the first human beings.

He is usually depicted as a man wearing either the royal head-cloth or the dual white and red crown of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, reinforcing his connection with kingship. Sometimes he also is shown as a serpent, the form he returns to at the end of the creative cycle, and also occasionally as a mongoose, lion, bull, lizard, or ape.

Horus (falcon/hawk)

Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. The earliest recorded form of Horus is the patron deity of Nekhen in Upper Egypt.

He is the first known national god, specifically related to the king who in time came to be regarded as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death. Later, he also became the patron of the pharaohs, and was called the son of truth – signifying his role as an important upholder of Maat.

Pyramid texts ca. 2400–2300 BC describe the nature of the Pharaoh in different characters as both Horus and Osiris. The Pharaoh as Horus in life became the Pharaoh as Osiris in death, where he was united with the rest of the gods. New incarnations of Horus succeeded the deceased pharaoh on earth in the form of new Pharaohs.

The lineage of Horus, the eventual product of unions between the children of Atum, may have been a means to explain and justify Pharaonic power; The gods produced by Atum were all representative of cosmic and terrestrial forces in Egyptian life; by identifying Horus as the offspring of these forces, then identifying him with Atum himself, and finally identifying the Pharaoh with Horus, the Pharaoh theologically had dominion over all the world.

Horus was the brother of Isis, Osiris, Set and Nephthys, but as different cults formed, he became the son of Isis and Osiris. Isis remained the sister of Osiris, Set, and Nephthys. Furthermore Nemty, another war god, was later identified as Horus.

The most commonly encountered family relationship describes Horus as the son of Isis, the mother goddess, and Osiris the original god-king of Egypt, who had been murdered by his brother Set, and thus became the god of the underworld, but in another tradition Hathor is regarded as his mother and sometimes as his wife. Horus fought battles against Set, until he finally achieved victory and became the ruler of Egypt.

All the Pharaohs of Egypt were seen as reincarnations of the victorious Horus. The Pharaohs were said to be Horus in human form. The notion of Horus as the Pharaoh seems to have been superseded by the concept of the Pharaoh as the son of Ra during the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.

Horus was born to the goddess Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris, except his penis which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish, or sometimes by a crab, and according to Plutarch’s account used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and fashion a gold phallus to conceive her son (older Egyptian accounts have the penis of Osiris surviving).

Once Isis knew she was pregnant with Horus, she fled to the Nile Delta marshlands to hide from her brother Set who jealously killed Osiris and who she knew would want to kill their son. There Isis bore a divine son, Horus.

Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egypt specialists. These various forms may possibly be different perceptions of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are emphasized, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality.

Horus served many functions in the Egyptian pantheon, most notably being the god of the sun, war and protection. To the ancient Egyptians, Horus represented the newborn Sun, rising each day at dawn. The full-grown Horus was considered the victorious god of the Sun who each day overcomes darkness.

He is often represented with the head of a sparrowhawk, which was sacred to him, as the hawk flies high above the Earth. He was most often depicted as a falcon, most likely a lanner or peregrine, with outstretched wings whose right eye was the sun and the left one was the moon, or as a man with a falcon head. In this form, he was sometimes given the title Kemwer, meaning (the) great black (one).

Horus was also said to be a god of war and hunting. The Horus falcon is shown upon a standard on the predynastic Hunters Palette in the “lion hunt”. Thus he became a symbol of majesty and power as well as the model of the pharaohs.

Horus is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as ḥr.w; the pronunciation has been reconstructed as *Ḥāru, meaning “falcon”. Additional meanings are thought to have been “the distant one” or “one who is above, over”. By Coptic times, the name became Hōr. It was adopted into Greek as Hōros. The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-si-ese literally “Horus, son of Isis”.

Horus was also known as Nekheny, meaning “falcon”. Some have proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at Nekhen (city of the hawk), with which Horus was identified from early on. Horus may be shown as a falcon on the Narmer Palette dating from the time of unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Horus and Set – The sun and the moon – The lower and upper Egypt

Since Horus was said to be the sky, he was considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was his right eye and the moon his left, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it.

Later, the reason that the moon was not as bright as the sun was explained by a tale, known as the The Contendings of Horus and Seth, originating as a metaphor for the conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower Egypt in about 3000 BC.

In this tale, it was said that Set, the patron of Upper Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Lower Egypt, had battled for Egypt brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the gods sided with Horus. As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as Harsiesis, Heru-ur or Har-Wer (ḥr.w wr ‘Horus the Great’), but more usually translated as Horus the Elder. The Greek form of Her-ur (or Har wer) is Haroeris. Other variants include Hor Merti ‘Horus of the two eyes’ and Horkhenti Irti. In this form he represented the god of light and the husband of Hathor.

In the struggle Set had lost a testicle, explaining why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus’ left eye had also been gouged out, then a new eye was created by part of Khonsu, the moon god, and was replaced.

The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and royal power from deities, in this case from Horus or Ra. The symbol is seen on images of Horus’ mother, Isis, and on other deities associated with her. In the Egyptian language, the word for this symbol was “Wedjat”. It was the eye of one of the earliest of Egyptian deities, Wadjet, who later became associated with Bast, Mut, and Hathor as well.

Wedjat was a solar deity and this symbol began as her eye, an all seeing eye. In early artwork, Hathor is also depicted with this eye. Funerary amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus. The Wedjat or Eye of Horus was intended to protect the king and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel.

Horus was told by his mother, Isis, to protect the people of Egypt from Set, the god of the desert, who had killed his father Osiris. Horus had many battles with Set, not only to avenge his father, but to choose the rightful ruler of Egypt. In these battles, Horus came to be associated with Lower Egypt, and became its patron.

According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Set is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and then having intercourse with him. However, Horus places his hand between his thighs and catches Set’s semen, then subsequently throws it in the river, so that he may not be said to have been inseminated by Set. Horus then deliberately spreads his own semen on some lettuce, which was Set’s favorite food.

After Set had eaten the lettuce, they went to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The gods first listened to Set’s claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answered from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the gods listened to Horus’ claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answered from inside Set.

However, Set still refused to relent, and the other gods were getting tired from over eighty years of fighting and challenges. Horus and Set challenged each other to a boat race, where they each raced in a boat made of stone. Horus and Set agreed, and the race started. But Horus had an edge: his boat was made of wood painted to resemble stone, rather than true stone. Set’s boat, being made of heavy stone, sank, but Horus’s did not. Horus then won the race, and Set stepped down and officially gave Horus the throne of Egypt. But after the New Kingdom, Set still was considered Lord of the desert and its oases.

This myth, along with others, could be seen as an explanation of how the two kingdoms of Egypt (Upper and Lower) came to be united. Horus was seen as the God of Upper Egypt, and Set as the God of Lower Egypt. In this myth, the respective Upper and Lower deities have a fight, through which Horus is the victor. However, some of Horus (representing Upper Egypt) enters into Set (Lower Egypt) thus explaining why Upper Egypt is dominant over Lower Egypt. Set’s regions were then considered to be of the desert.


Set or Seth (also spelled Setesh, Sutekh, Setekh, or Suty) is a god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners in ancient Egyptian religion. Set is not, however, a god to be ignored or avoided; he had a vital role as a reconciled combatant. He was lord of the red (desert) land where he was the balance to Horus’ role as lord of the black (soil) land.

The earliest representations of what may be the Set animal comes from a tomb dating to the Naqada I phase of the Predynastic Period (3790 BC–3500 BC), though this identification is uncertain. If these are ruled out, then the earliest Set-animal appears on a mace head of the King Scorpion, a protodynastic ruler. The head and the forked tail of the Set animal are clearly present.

In the mythology of Heliopolis, Set was born of the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb. Set’s sister and wife was Nephthys. Nut and Geb also produced another two children who became husband and wife: the divine Osiris and Isis, whose son was Horus.

Set’s siblings are Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys. He married Nephthys and fathered Anubis; and in some accounts he had relationships with other goddesses: Hathor, Neith and the foreign goddesses Anat, and Astarte. His homosexual episodes with Horus result in them fathering the moon god Thoth.

He has a positive role where he is employed by Ra on his solar boat to repel the serpent of Chaos Apep. Set was depicted standing on the prow of Ra’s night barque spearing Apep in the form of a serpent, turtle, or other dangerous water animals.

In Egyptian mythology, Set is portrayed as the usurper who killed and mutilated his own brother Osiris. Osiris’ wife Isis reassembled Osiris’ corpse and resurrected him long enough to conceive his son and heir Horus. Horus sought revenge upon Set, and the myths describe their conflicts. The death of Osiris and the battle between Horus and Set is a popular theme in Egyptian mythology.

Some Egyptologists have reconstructed these as Set poking out Horus’s left eye, and Horus retaliating by castrating Set. However the references to an eye and testicles appear more indirect, referring to the evil Set sexually abusing the young Horus, who protects himself by deflecting the seed of Set, which can be construed as the theft of Set’s virile power. Later Egyptians interpreted the myth of the conflict between Set and Osiris/Horus as an analogy for the struggle between the desert (represented by Set) and the fertilizing floods of the Nile (Osiris/Horus).

During the Second Intermediate Period, a group of Asiatic foreign chiefs known as the Hyksos (literally, “rulers of foreign lands”) gained the rulership of Egypt, and ruled the Nile Delta, from Avaris. They chose Set, originally Upper Egypt’s chief god, the god of foreigners and the god they found most similar to their own chief god, as their patron, and then Set became worshiped as the chief god once again.

When Ahmose I overthrew the Hyksos and expelled them from Egypt, Egyptian attitudes towards Asiatic foreigners became xenophobic, and royal propaganda discredited the period of Hyksos rule. Nonetheless, the Set cult at Avaris flourished, and the Egyptian garrison of Ahmose stationed there became part of the priesthood of Set.

The founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty, Ramesses I came from a military family from Avaris with strong ties to the priesthood of Set. Several of the Ramesside kings were named for Set, most notably Seti I (literally, “man of Set”) and Setnakht (literally, “Set is strong”). In addition, one of the garrisons of Ramesses II held Set as its patron deity, and Ramesses II erected the so-called Four Hundred Years’ Stele at Pi-Ramesses, commemorating the 400 year anniversary of the Set cult in the Delta.

Set also became associated with foreign gods during the New Kingdom, particularly in the Delta. Set was also identified by the Egyptians with the Hittite deity Teshub, who was a storm god like Set. In some Late Period representations, such as in the Persian Period temple at Hibis in the Khargah Oasis, Set was represented in this role with a falcon’s head, taking on the guise of Horus.

According to Herman te Velde, the demonization of Set took place after Egypt’s conquest by several foreign nations in the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. Set, who had traditionally been the god of foreigners, thus also became associated with foreign oppressors, including the Assyrian and Persian empires. It was during the time that Set was particularly vilified, and his defeat by Horus widely celebrated.

Set’s negative aspects were emphasized during this period. Set was the killer of Osiris, having hacked Osiris’ body into pieces and dispersed it so that he could not be resurrected. The Greeks later linked Set with Typhon because both were evil forces, storm deities, and sons of the Earth that attacked the main gods. Nevertheless, throughout this period, in some outlying regions of Egypt Set was still regarded as the heroic chief deity.

Sopdu and Sopdet

Sopdu (also rendered Septu or Sopedu) was a god of the sky and of eastern border regions in ancient Egyptian religion. According to the Pyramid Texts, Horus-Sopdu, a combination of Sopdu and the greater sky god Horus, is the offspring of Osiris-Sah and Isis-Sopdet.

As a sky god, Sopdu was connected with the god Sah, the personification of the constellation Orion, and the goddess Sopdet, the deification of Sothis, a star considered by almost all Egyptologists to be the star Sirius. The name Sopdet means (she who is) sharp in Egyptian, a reference to the brightness of Sirius, which is the brightest star in the night sky. In art she is depicted as a woman with a five-pointed star upon her head.

Just after Sirius has a heliacal rising in the July sky, the Nile River begins its annual flood, and so the ancient Egyptians connected the two. Consequently Sopdet was identified as a goddess of the fertility of the soil, which was brought to it by the Nile’s flooding. This significance led the Egyptians to base their calendar on the heliacal rising of Sirius.

Sopdet is the consort of Sah, the constellation of Orion, near which Sirius appears, and the god Sopdu was said to be their child. These relationships parallel those of the god Osiris and his family, and Sah was linked with Osiris, Sopdet with Isis, and Sopdu with Horus. She is said in the Pyramid Texts to be the daughter of Osiris.

As a god of the east, Sopdu was said to protect Egyptian outposts along the frontiers and to help the pharaoh control those regions’ foreign inhabitants. He was referred to as Lord of the East, and had his greatest cult centre at the easternmost nome of Lower Egypt, which was named Per-Sopdu, meaning place of Sopdu. He also had shrines at Egyptian settlements in the Sinai Peninsula, such as the turquoise mines at Serabit el-Khadim.

Sopdu’s name is composed of the hieroglyph for sharp, a pointed triangle, and the 3rd person plural suffix (a quail); thus a literal translation of his name is sharp ones. He was said, in the Pyramid Texts, to protect the teeth of the deceased pharaoh.

Sopdu was depicted as a falcon sitting on a religious standard, often with a two-feathered crown on his head and a flail over his shoulder. In his border-guarding role he was shown as a Near Eastern warrior, with a shemset girdle and an axe or spear.


In the Alexandrian and Roman renewed vogue for mystery cults at the turn of the millennium the worship of Horus became widely extended, linked with Isis (his mother) and Serapis (Osiris, his father).

The Greeks melded Osiris with their underworld god, Hades, to produce the essentially Alexandrian syncretism, Serapis, a Graeco-Egyptian god.

Serapis was devised during the 3rd century BCE on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection.

Though Ptolemy I may have created the cult of Sarapis and endorsed him as a patron of the Ptolemaic dynasty and Alexandria, Sarapis was a syncretistic deity derived from the worship of the Egyptian Osiris and Apis (Osiris + Apis = Oserapis/Sarapis) and also gained attributes from other deities, such as chthonic powers linked to the Greek Pluto and Demeter, and benevolence linked to Dionysus.

Harpocrates (hawk)

Horus was occasionally shown in art as a naked boy with a finger in his mouth sitting on a lotus with his mother. In the form of a youth, Horus was referred to as Neferhor. This is also spelled Nefer Hor, Nephoros or Nopheros (nfr ḥr.w) meaning ‘The Good Horus’. In this way Harpocrates, the child Horus, personifies the newborn sun each day, the first strength of the winter sun, and also the image of early vegetation.

Horus the Younger, Harpocrates to the Ptolemaic Greeks, is represented in the form of a youth wearing a lock of hair (a sign of youth) on the right of his head while sucking his finger. In addition, he usually wears the united crowns of Egypt, the crown of upper Egypt and the crown of lower Egypt. He is a form of the rising sun, representing its earliest light.

When the Greeks conquered Egypt under Alexander the Great, they transformed the Egyptian Horus into their Hellenistic god known as Harpocrates, a rendering from Egyptian Har-pa-khered or Heru-pa-khered (meaning “Horus the Child”).

Stelae depicting Heru-pa-Khered standing on the back of a crocodile and holding snakes in his outstretched hands were erected in Egyptian temple courtyards, where they would be immersed or lustrated in water; the water was then used for blessing and healing purposes as the name of Heru-pa-Khered was itself attributed with many protective and healing powers.

Egyptian statues represent the child Horus, pictured as a naked boy with his finger on his chin with the fingertip just below the lips of his mouth, a realization of the hieroglyph for “child” that is unrelated to the Greco-Roman and modern gesture for “silence”. Misunderstanding this sign, the later Greeks and Roman poets made Harpocrates the god of Silence and Secrecy.


Shed is an Ancient Egyptian deity, popularly called, “the savior” and is first recorded after the Amarna Period. Representing the concept of salvation he is identified with Horus and in particular “Horus the Child”. He has been viewed as a form of savior, a helper for those in need when state authority or the king’s help is wanting.

Shed has also been viewed as a form of the ancient Semitic god Resheph (Rašap, Rešef, Reshef; Canaanite/Hebrew ršp), a Canaanite deity of plague and war. In Ugarit, Resheph was identified with Nergal, in Idalion, Cyprus, with Apollo.

Although the iconography of Resheph shares the gazelle with that of the Egyptian-Canaanite Shed, an Ancient Egyptian deity, popularly called, “the savior”, the rest of the attributes are totally different. According to myth, Resheph exerted a benign influence against disease.

Rather than have formal worship in a temple or as an official cult Shed appears to have been a god that ordinary Egyptians looked to save them from illness, misfortune or danger. He is shown on the Metternich Stela as vanquishing danger in the form of a serpent, a scorpion and a crocodile.

The rise of “Savior” names in personal piety during the Amarna period has been interpreted as the popular response of ordinary people to the attempts by Akhenaten to proscribe the ancient religion of Egypt. Shed can be depicted as a young prince overcoming snakes, lions and crocodiles.

The increased reliance on divine assistance could even extend to saving a person from the underworld, even to providing a substitute, and lengthening a person’s time in this world. In the New Kingdom Shed “the savior” is addressed on countless stelae by people searching or praising him for help.

Ra (ram)

As Banebdjed, Osiris was given epithets such as Lord of the Sky and Life of the (sun god) Ra, the ancient Egyptian solar deity, since Ra, when he had become identified with Atum, was considered Osiris’ ancestor, from whom his regal authority is inherited.

To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made the sun deity very important, as the sun was seen as the ruler of all that he created. The sun disk was either seen as the body or eye of Ra. Ra was the father of Shu and Tefnut, whom he created. Shu was the god of the wind, and Tefnut was the goddess of the rain. Sekhmet was the Eye of Ra and was created by the fire in Ra’s eye. She was a violent lioness.

Ra was thought to travel on two solar boats called the Mandjet (the Boat of Millions of Years), or morning boat and the Mesektet, or evening boat. These boats took him on his journey through the sky and the Duat, the literal underworld of Egypt.

While Ra was on the Mesektet, he was in his ram-headed form. When Ra traveled in his sun boat he was accompanied by various other deities including Sia (perception) and Hu (command) as well as Heka (magic power). Sometimes members of the Ennead helped him on his journey, including Set, who overcame the serpent Apophis, and Mehen, who defended against the monsters of the underworld. When Ra was in the underworld, he would visit all of his various forms.

Apophis, the God of chaos, was an enormous serpent who attempted to stop the sun boat’s journey every night by consuming it or by stopping it in its tracks with a hypnotic stare. During the evening, the Egyptians believed that Ra set as Atum or in the form of a ram.

The Mesektet, or the Night boat, would carry him through the underworld and back towards the east in preparation for his rebirth. These myths of Ra represented the sun rising as the rebirth of the sun by the sky goddess Nut; thus attributing the concept of rebirth and renewal to Ra and strengthening his role as a creator god as well.

When Ra was in the underworld, he merged with Osiris, the god of the dead, and through it became the god of the dead as well. With the Ancient Egyptian’s complicated polytheistic beliefs, Ra was worshipped as the creator god to some Ancient Egyptians, specifically his followers at Heliopolis. It was believed that Ra wept, and from the tears he wept came man. These cult-followers believed that Ra was self-created, while followers of Ptah believed that Ra was created by Ptah.

By the Fifth Dynasty (2494 to 2345 BC) Ra or Re had become a major god in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the midday sun. In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra was merged with the god Horus, as Re-Horakhty (“Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons”). He was believed to rule in all parts of the created world: the sky, the earth, and the underworld. He was associated with the falcon or hawk.

When in the New Kingdom the god Amun rose to prominence he was fused with Ra as Amun-Ra. During the Amarna Period, Akhenaten suppressed the cult of Ra in favour of another solar deity, the Aten, the deified solar disc, but after the death of Akhenaten the cult of Ra was restored.

All forms of life were believed to have been created by Ra, who called each of them into existence by speaking their secret names. Alternatively humans were created from Ra’s tears and sweat hence the Egyptians call themselves the “Cattle of Ra.”

In the myth of the Celestial Cow it is recounted how mankind plotted against Ra and how he sent his eye as the goddess Sekhmet to punish them. When she became bloodthirsty she was pacified by mixing beer with red dye.

The cult of the Mnevis bull, an embodiment of Ra, had its centre in Heliopolis and there was a formal burial ground for the sacrificed bulls north of the city.

Khepri (ram)

Khepri was connected with the scarab beetle (kheprer), because the scarab rolls balls of dung across the ground, an act that the Egyptians saw as a symbol of the forces that move the sun across the sky. Khepri was thus a solar deity.

Young dung beetles, having been laid as eggs within the dung ball, emerge from it fully formed. Therefore, Khepri also represented creation and rebirth, and he was specifically connected with the rising sun and the mythical creation of the world. The Egyptians connected his name with the Egyptian language verb kheper, meaning “develop” or “come into being”.

There was no cult devoted to Khepri, and he was largely subordinate to the greater sun god Ra. Often, Khepri and another solar deity, Atum, were seen as aspects of Ra: Khepri was the morning sun, Ra was the midday sun, and Atum was the sun in the evening.

Khepri was principally depicted as a scarab beetle, though in some tomb paintings and funerary papyri he is represented as a human male with a scarab as a head. He is also depicted as a scarab in a solar barque held aloft by Nun. The scarab amulets that the Egyptians used as jewelry and as seals represent Khepri.

Montu (bull)

In Ancient Egyptian religion, Montu was a falcon-god of war. Monthu’s name, shown in Egyptian hieroglyphs to the right, is technically transcribed as mntw. Because of the difficulty in transcribing Egyptian, it is often realized as Mont, Monthu, Montju, or Menthu.

Montu was an ancient god, his name meaning nomad, originally a manifestation of the scorching effect of the sun, Ra, and as such often appeared under the epithet Montu-Ra. The destructiveness of this characteristic led to him gaining characteristics of a warrior, and eventually becoming a war-god.

Because of the association of raging bulls with strength and war, Montu was also said to manifest himself in a white bull with a black face, which was referred to as the Bakha. Egypt’s greatest general-kings called themselves Mighty Bulls, the sons of Montu. In the famous narrative of the Battle of Kadesh, Ramesses II was said to have seen the enemy and “raged at them like Montu, Lord of Thebes”.

In Ancient Egyptian art, he was pictured as a falcon-headed or bull-headed man who wore the sun-disc, with two plumes on his head, the falcon representing the sky, and the bull representing strength and war. He would hold various weaponry, including scimitars, bows and arrows, and knives in his hands.

Montu had several consorts, including the goddess Tenenet, the goddess Iunit, and a female form of Ra, Raettawy. Mentuhotep, a name given to several pharaohs in the Middle Kingdom, means “Montu is satisfied”.

Amun (ram)

Amun (also Amon, Amen) was a local deity of Thebes. He was attested since the Old Kingdom together with his spouse Amaunet. With the 11th dynasty (c. 21st century BC), he rose to the position of patron deity of Thebes by replacing Monthu.

After the rebellion of Thebes against the Hyksos and with the rule of Ahmose I, Amun acquired national importance, expressed in his fusion with the Sun god, Ra, as Amun-Ra.

Re-Horakhty, or “Ra (who is the) Horus of the two Horizons”, is the fusion of Ra and Horus in depiction typical of the New Kingdom. Re-Horakhty was in turn identified with Amun. Amun-Ra retained chief importance in the Egyptian pantheon throughout the New Kingdom (with the exception of the “Atenist heresy” under Akhenaten).

Amun-Ra in this period (16th to 11th centuries BC) held the position of transcendental, self-created creator deity “par excellence”, he was the champion of the poor or troubled and central to personal piety. His position as King of Gods developed to the point of virtual monotheism where other gods became manifestations of him. With Osiris, Amun-Ra is the most widely recorded of the Egyptian gods.

As the chief deity of the Egyptian Empire, Amun-Ra also came to be worshipped outside of Egypt, in Ancient Libya and Nubia, and as Zeus Ammon came to be identified with Zeus in Ancient Greece.


Aten (also Aton, Egyptian jtn) is the disk of the sun in ancient Egyptian mythology, and originally an aspect of Ra. The Aten, the sun-disk, is first referred to as a deity in The Story of Sinuhe from the 12th dynasty, in which the deceased king is described as rising as god to the heavens and uniting with the sun-disk, the divine body merging with its maker. By analogy, the term “silver aten” was sometimes used to refer to the moon.

The solar Aten was extensively worshipped as a god in the reign of Amenhotep III, when it was depicted as a falcon-headed man much like Ra. In the reign of Amenhotep III’s successor, Amenhotep IV, who later took the name Akhenaten in worship and recognition of Aten, the Aten became the focus of the monolatristic, henotheistic, or monotheistic religion of Atenism and the central god of Egyptian state religion. In his poem “Great Hymn to the Aten”, Akhenaten praises Aten as the creator, and giver of life. The worship of Aten was eradicated by Horemheb.

High relief and low relief illustrations of the Aten show it with a curved surface (see for example the photograph illustrating this article), therefore, the late scholar Hugh Nibley insisted that a more correct translation would be globe, orb or sphere, rather than disk. There is a possibility that Aten’s three-dimensional spherical shape depicts an eye of Horus/Ra. In the other early monotheistic religion Zoroastrianism the sun is called Ahura Mazda’s eye. Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period (c. 550 – 330 BCE) under Darius I’s Behistun Inscription.

The full title of Akhenaten’s god, Ra-Horus, was “Ra-Horakhty (Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons) who rejoices in the horizon, in his Name as the Light which is in the sun disc.” (This is the title of the god as it appears on the numerous stelae which were placed to mark the boundaries of Akhenaten’s new capital at Akhetaten, modern Amarna.)

This lengthy name was often shortened to Ra-Horus-Aten or just Aten in many texts, but the god of Akhenaten raised to supremacy is considered a synthesis of very ancient gods viewed in a new and different way.

The god is also considered to be both masculine and feminine simultaneously. All creation was thought to emanate from the god and to exist within the god. In particular, the god was not depicted in anthropomorphic (human) form, but as rays of light extending from the sun’s disk.

Ra-Horus is a synthesis of two other gods, both of which are attested from very early on. During the Amarna period, this synthesis was seen as the invisible source of energy of the sun god, of which the visible manifestation was the Aten, the solar disk. Thus Ra-Horus-Aten was a development of old ideas which came gradually.

The real change, as some see it, was the apparent abandonment of all other gods, especially Amun, and the debatable introduction of monotheism by Akhenaten. The syncretism is readily apparent in the Great Hymn to the Aten in which Re-Herakhty, Shu and Aten are merged into the creator god. Others see Akhenaten as a practitioner of an Aten monolatry, as he did not actively deny the existence of other gods; he simply refrained from worshipping any but the Aten.


In Egyptian mythology, Apis or Hapis (alternatively spelled Hapi-ankh), is a bull-deity that was worshipped in the Memphis region. “Apis served as an intermediary between humans and an all-powerful god (originally Ptah, later Osiris, then Atum).”

Apis was originally the Herald (wHm) of Ptah, the chief god in the area around Memphis. He was entitled “the renewal of the life” of Ptah: but after death he became Osorapis, i.e. the Osiris Apis, just as dead humans were assimilated to Osiris, the king of the underworld.

The cult of the Apis bull started at the very beginning of Egyptian history, probably as a fertility god connected to grain and the herds. In a funerary context, the Apis was a protector of the deceased, and linked to the pharaoh. This animal was chosen because it symbolized the king’s courageous heart, great strength, virility, and fighting spirit.

As a manifestation of Ptah, Apis also was considered to be a symbol of the pharaoh, embodying the qualities of kingship. Ceremonial burials of bulls indicate that ritual sacrifice was part of the worship of the early cow deities and a bull might represent a king who became a deity after death.

The Apis bull was considered to be a manifestation of the pharaoh, as bulls were symbols of strength and fertility, qualities which are closely linked with kingship (“strong bull of his mother Hathor” was a common title for gods and pharaohs).

Occasionally, the Apis bull was pictured with her sun-disk between his horns, being one of few deities associated with her symbol. When the disk was depicted on his head with his horns below and the triangle on his forehead, an ankh was suggested. It also is a symbol closely associated with his mother.

Shu and Tefnut

Ptah was also symbolized by two birds with human heads adorned with solar disks, symbols of the souls of the god Re: the Ba. The two Ba are also identified as the twin gods Shu and Tefnut and are associated with the djed pillar of Memphis.


Shu (meaning “emptiness” and “he who rises up”) was one of the primordial gods in Egyptian mythology, a personification of air, one of the Ennead of Heliopolis.As the air, Shu was considered to be cooling, and thus calming, influence, and pacifier. Due to the association with air, calm, and thus Ma’at (truth, justice and order), Shu was portrayed in art as wearing an ostrich feather. Shu was seen with between one and four feathers. He carries an ankh, the symbol of life.

In a much later myth, representing the terrible weather disaster at the end of the Old Kingdom, it was said that Tefnut and Shu once argued, and Tefnut left Egypt for Nubia (which was always more temperate). It was said that Shu quickly decided that he missed her, but she changed into a cat that destroyed any man or god that approached. Thoth, disguised, eventually succeeded in convincing her to return.

He was created by Atum, his father and Iusaaset, his mother in the city of Heliopolis. With his sister Tefnut (moisture), he was the father of Nut and Geb. His daughter, Nut, was the sky goddess whom he held over the Earth (Geb), separating the two. The Egyptians believed that if Shu didn’t hold his son and daughter (the god of the earth and the goddess of the sky) apart there would be no way life could be created. Shu’s grandchildren are Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys. His great-grandsons are Horus and Anubis.


Tefnut is a goddess of moisture, moist air, dew and rain in Ancient Egyptian religion. She is the sister and consort of the air god Shu and the mother of Geb and Nut. Literally translating as “That Water”, the name Tefnut has been linked to the verb ‘tfn’ meaning ‘to spit’ and versions of the creation myth say that Ra (or Atum) spat her out and her name was written as a mouth spitting in late texts.


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