Long before the rise of Western civilisation, ancient Egyptian civilisation dominated the landscape. The ancient Egyptians had an advanced culture and they took their religion very seriously. As multitheists, they worshipped multiple gods and goddesses. Historians aren't sure of the exact number, but scholars believe there were more than 2,000 deities. These performed specific duties in the culture, many acting as personal gods or goddesses for worshippers. Citizens worshipped gods within special temples, offering sacrifices in return for good fortune.
The story of Egyptian gods and goddesses starts with the creation of the world. In ancient Egyptian mythology, the world began with Nu or Nun, the chaotic ocean. Ra, the sun god also known as Atum, emerged from this ocean to light the universe. Some myths have Ra rising in a lotus flower, while others say he emerged in an egg. From here, Ra created Shu, the air god, and his wife Tefnut, the moisture goddess. Shu and Tefnut birthed the sky goddess Nut and earth god Geb.
Geb and Nut married, which angered Ra. Ra forbade Nut from giving birth during any point in the year, which at the time consisted of 360 days. To get around this, Thoth, the learning god, wagered with the moon and won extra light, extending the year by five days so that Nut could give birth to Osiris, Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis and Nephthys. During the final days of creation, Khnum made plants, animals and humans using a potter's wheel.
With so many gods and goddesses, it can be confusing trying to decipher who was worshipped when, where and by whom. Several deities, though, stand at the forefront in terms of importance and widespread worship. Ra-Atum ranks as the most widely worshipped god in Egyptian mythology. Ra controls the sun and gave life to all other gods. Osiris, originally a god of nature, became widely worshipped as the god of the dead. Isis reigned as a goddess of medicine and agriculture, representing the female ideal. Other major players included Horus, the god of the living; Seth, god of wind and storms; and Bastet, the cat goddess also known as Bast.
As opposed to larger, more widely worshipped deities, personal deities might have been less widespread. These gods and goddesses, such as Bes and Tawaret, controlled smaller things affecting daily life. These could range from things such as childbirth to the prevention of crocodile attacks. Most of the time, these personal deities represented the gods and goddesses of a particular region rather than worship throughout Egypt.
Cities featured groups of deities known as an ennead. Enneads consisted of nine gods and goddesses, along with a triad of a father, mother and son. In Heliopolis, the central city of sun worship, citizens worshipped the most famous ennead of Ra and his relatives.
Enneads were worshipped in temples within the cities. Egyptians believed that the gods and goddesses lived within the temples. Each temple was dedicated to a specific god or goddess. These temples were made from stone and featured brightly painted scenes carved into the walls. The scenes depicted holy rituals or epic battles carried out by pharaohs. The temple priests offered sacrifices within the temple to the gods and goddesses. These sacrifices consisted of foods and drinks thought to be preferred by the gods.
Gods and Animals
Animals played a large part in the worship of gods and goddesses. Bastet, for instance, was represented by a cat. Most often, the deities were depicted as having a human body with an animal head. Major deity Ra was often shown as a person with a hawk head. Thoth featured an ibis head, while love goddess Hathor featured a cow head. Tawaret, the goddess of pregnancy and childbirth, featured multiple animal parts. Her head was that of a hippo, and her arms and legs were like those of a lion. She had the back and tail of a crocodile, leaving her breasts and stomach as those of a pregnant woman.
- Aldokkan: Egyptian Creation Myth: Heliopolis Version / Comparison Between Egyptian and Hebrew Creation Myths
- Aldokkan: Egyptian Gods / Comparison Between Egyptian and Norse Gods
- The British Museum, Ancient Egypt: How did people worship the gods and goddesses?
- Minnesota State University: EMuseum: Egyptian Mythology; Adam Erickson; 2002
- Emayzine: Egyptian Mythology; Robert H. Dawson Jr.
- The British Museum: Ancient Egypt: Temples