Welcome!
::  Home  ::  E-Books  ::  Articles  ::  Tarot Reading  ::  Downloads  ::
  Navigation
 Main
   Home
 Astrology
   Birth Chart
   Compatibility Report
   Forecast Report
 Resources
   Articles
   Downloads
   Encyclopedia
   Thoth Gallery
   Amazon Shop
   On Line E-books
 Divination
   Runes
   I-Ching
   Horoscope
   Biorhythms
   Tarot Reading
 Information
   Search
   Reviews
 Community
   Surveys
   Little Al Crowley
 Contact
 
  Random Quotes
Emile Zola (1840-1902)
The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.
 
  Latest Articles
New Content

The Book of the Archer
The Principles of Discordian Magick
Energy
The Concept of Order
Applied Magick
Advanced I Ching: The Structure of a Well- Ordered Family
Alchemy is alive and Well
Thoth and The Book of Thoth - The Myths behind the Legend
The Tree of Life & Frater Achad
Socrates and Sages
 
  Search
Search Type:


Advanced Search
 
  Six Principles of Magic
1. Every magician has a beautiful vision for the world.
2. Every system of magic is a single artists tool, used to reshape reality.
3. If you believe, it shall exist.
4. When you call, they will answer.
5. Success and failure, is one and the same: ignorance and depression is the enemy.
6. Be like all equally, and you shall unite; refuse and separate.

by Dalamar
 
  Mythology of THOTH
Thoth Egyptian God
Discover more about the myth and legend of Thoth & The Book of THOTH
 
CHAPTER II : RELIGION OF ANCIENT EGYPT

(10635 total words in this text)
(1643 reads)   Printer Friendly Page




p. 37

CHAPTER II

RELIGION OF ANCIENT EGYPT

EGYPTIAN VIEW OF CREATION

MAN in all times and places, has speculated on the nature and origin of the world, and connected such questions with his theology. In Egypt there are not many primitive theories of creation, though some have various elaborated forms. Of the formation of the earth there were two views.

(1) That it had been brought into being by the word of a god, who when he uttered any name caused the object thereby to exist. Thoth is the principal creator by this means and this idea probably belongs to a period soon after the age of the animal gods.

(2) The other view is that Ptah framed the world as an artificer, with the aid of eight Khnumu, or earth-gnomes. This belongs to the theology of the abstract gods. The primitive people seem to have been content with the eternity of matter, and only personified nature when they described space, Shu,

p. 38

as separating the sky, Nut, from the earth, Seb. This is akin to the separation of chaos into sky and sea in Genesis.

The sun is called the egg laid by the primeval goose; and in later time this was said to be laid by a god, or modelled by Ptah. Evidently this goose egg is a primitive tale which was adapted to later theology.

The sky is said to be upheld by four pillars. These were later connected. with the gods of the four quarters; but the primitive four pillars were represented together, with the capitals one over the other, in the sign dad, the emblem of stability. These may have belonged to the Osiris cycle, as he is "lord of the pillars," daddu, and his center in the Delta was named Daddu from the pillars. The setting up of the pillars or dad emblem was a great festival in which the kings took part, and which is often represented.

The creation of life was variously attributed to different great gods where they were worshipped. Khnumu, Osiris, Amen, or Atmu, each are stated to be the creator. The mode was only defined by the theorists of Heliopolis; they imagined that Atmu self-produced Seb and Nut, and they in turn other gods, from whom at last sprang mankind.

p. 39

But this is merely later theorizing to fit a theology in being.

The cosmogonic theories, therefore, were by no means important articles of belief, but rather assumptions of what the gods were likely to have done similar to the acts of men. The creation by the word is the more elevated idea, and is parallel to the creation in Genesis.

The conception of the nature of the world was that of a great plain, over which the sun passed by day, and beneath which it travelled through the hours of night. The movement of the sun was supposed to be that of floating on the heavenly ocean, figured by its being in a boat, which was probably an expression for its flotation. The elaboration of the nature of the regions through which the sun passed at night essentially belongs to the Ra theology, and only recognises the kingdom of Osiris by placing it in one of the hours of night. The old conception of the dim realm of the cemetery-god Seker occupies the fourth and fifth hours; the sixth hour is an approach to the Osiride region, and the seventh hour is the kingdom of Osiris. Each hour was separated by gates, which were guarded by demons who needed to be controlled by magic formulæ.

p. 40

THE GODS OF ANCIENT EGYPT

Before dealing with the special varieties of the Egyptians' belief in gods, it is best to try to avoid a misunderstanding of their whole conception of the supernatural. The term god has come to tacitly imply to our minds such a highly specialized group of attributes that we can hardly throw our ideas back into the more remote conceptions to which we also attach the same name. It is unfortunate that every other word for supernatural intelligences has become debased, so that we cannot well speak of demons, devils, ghosts, or fairies without implying a noxious or a trifling meaning, quite unsuited to the ancient deities that were so beneficent and powerful. If then we use the word god for such conceptions, it must always be with the reservation that the word has now a very different meaning from what it had to ancient minds.

To the Egyptian the gods might be mortal; even Ra, the sun-god, is said to have grown old and feeble, Osiris was slain, and Orion, the great hunter of the heavens, killed and ate the gods. The mortality of gods has been dwelt on by Dr. Frazer in the "Golden Bough," and the many instances of tombs of gods, and of the slaying of the deified man

p. 41

who was worshipped, all show that immortality was not a divine attribute. Nor was there any doubt that they might suffer while alive; one myth tells how Ra, as he walked on earth, was bitten by a magic serpent and suffered torments. The gods were also supposed to share in a life like that of man, not only in Egypt but in most ancient lands. Offerings of food and drink were constantly supplied to them, in Egypt laid upon the altars, in other lands burnt for a sweet savour. At Thebes the divine wife of the god, or high priestess, was the head of the harem of concubines of the god; and similarly in Babylonia the chamber of the god with the golden couch could only be visited by the priestess who slept there for oracular responses. The Egyptian gods could not be cognisant of what passed on earth without being informed, nor could they reveal their will at a distant place except by sending a messenger; they were as limited as the Greek gods who required the aid of Iris to communicate one with another or with mankind. The gods, therefore, have no divine superiority to man in conditions or limitations; they can only be described as pre-existent, acting intelligences, with scarcely greater powers than man might hope to gain by magic or witchcraft of his own. This conception

p. 42

explains how easily the divine merged into the human in Greek theology, and how frequently divine ancestors occurred in family histories. (By the word "theology" is designated the knowledge about gods.)

There are in ancient theologies very different classes of gods. Some races, as the modern Hindu, revel in a profusion of gods and godlings, which are continually being increased. Others, as the Turanians, whether Sumerian Babylonians, modern Siberians, or Chinese, do not adopt the worship of great gods, but deal with a host of animistic spirits, ghosts, devils, or whatever we may call them; and Shamanism or witchcraft is their system for conciliating such adversaries. But all our knowledge of the early positions and nature of great gods shows them to have stood on an entirely different footing to these varied spirits. Were the conception of a god only an evolution from such spirit worship of one god, polytheism would precede monotheism in each tribe or race. What we actually find is the contrary of this, monotheism is the first stage traceable in theology. Hence we must rather look on the theologic conception of the Aryan and Semitic races as quite apart from the demon-worship of the Turanians. Indeed the Chinese

p. 43

seem to have a mental aversion to the conception of a personal god, and to think either of the host of earth spirits and other demons, or else of the pantheistic abstraction of heaven.

Wherever we can trace back polytheism to its earliest stages we find that it results from combinations of monotheism. In Egypt even Osiris, Isis, and Horus--so familiar as a triad--are found at first as separate units in different places, Isis as a virgin goddess, and Horus as a self-existent god. Each city appears to have but one god belonging to it, to whom others were added. Similarly in Babylonia each great city had its supreme god; and the combinations of these, and their transformations in order to form them in groups when their homes were politically united, show how essentially they were solitary deities at first.

Not only must we widely distinguish the demonology of races worshipping numerous earth spirits and demons from the theology of races devoted to solitary great gods; but we must further distinguish the varying ideas of the latter class. Most of the theologic races have no objection to tolerating the worship of other gods side by side with that of their own local deity. It is in this way that the compound theologies built up the polytheism

p. 44

of Egypt and of Greece. But others of the theologic races have the conception of "a jealous god," who would not tolerate the presence of a rival. We cannot date this conception earlier than Mosaism, and this idea struggled hard against polytheistic toleration. This view acknowledges the reality of other gods, but ignores their claims. The still later view was that other gods were non-existent, a position started by the Hebrew prophets in contempt of idolatry, scarcely grasped by early Christianity, but triumphantly held by Islam.

We therefore have to deal with the following conceptions, which fall into two main groups, that probably belong to different divisions of mankind:

Animism

Demonology

Tribal Monotheism

At any state the unity of different gods may be accepted as a modus vivendi or as a philosophy.

Combinations forming tolerant Polytheism

Jealous Monotheism

Sole Monotheism

 

All of these require mention here as more or less of each principle, both of animism and monotheism, can be traced in the innumerable combinations found during the six thousand years of Egyptian religion: these combinations of beliefs being due to combinations of the races to which they belonged.

Before we can understand what were the relations

p. 45

between man and the gods we must first notice the conceptions of the nature of man. In the prehistoric days of Egypt the position and direction of the body was always the same in every burial; offerings of food and drink were placed by it, figures of servants, furniture, even games, were included in the grave. It must be concluded therefore that it was a belief in immortality which gave rise to such a detailed ritual of the dead, though we have no written evidence upon this.

So soon as we reach the age of documents we find on tombstones that the person is denoted by the khu between the arms of the ka. From later writings it is seen that the khu is applied to a spirit of man; while the ka is not the body but the activities of sense and perception. Thus, in the earliest age of documents, two entities were believed to vitalize the body.

The KA is more frequently named than any other part, as all funeral offerings were made for the KA. It is said that if opportunities of satisfaction in life were missed it is grievous to the ka, and that the ka must not be annoyed needlessly; hence it was more than perception, and it included all that we might call consciousness. Perhaps we may grasp it best as the "self," with the same variety of meaning

p. 46

that we have in our own word. The ka was represented as a human being following after the man; it was born at the same time as the man, but persisted after death and lived in and about the tomb. It could act and visit other kas after death, but it could not resist the least touch of physical force. It was always represented by two upraised arms, the acting parts of the person. Beside the ka of man, all objects likewise had their kas, which were comparable to the human ka, and among these the ka lived. This view leads closely to the world of ideas permeating the material world in later philosophy.

The KHU is figured as a crested bird, which has the meaning of "glorious" or "shining" in ordinary use. It refers to a less material conception than the ka, and may be called the intelligence or spirit.

The KHAT is the material body of man which was the vehicle of the KA, and inhabited by the KHU.

The BA belongs to, a different pneumatology to that just noticed. It is the soul apart from the body, figured as a human-headed bird. The conception probably arose from the white owls, with round beads and every human expressions, which frequent the tombs, flying noiselessly to and fro. The ba required food and drink, which were provided

p. 47

for it by the goddess of the cemetery. It thus overlaps the scope of the ka, and probably belongs to a different race to that which define the man.

The sahu or mummy is associated particularly with the ba; and the ba bird is often shown as resting on the mummy or seeking to re-enter it.

The khaybet was the shadow of a man; the importance of the shadow in early ideas is well known.

The sekhem was the force or ruling power of man, but is rarely mentioned.

The ab is the will and intentions, symbolised by the heart; often used in phrases such as a man being "in the heart of his lord," "wideness of heart" for satisfaction, "washing of the heart" for giving vent to temper.

The HATI is the physical heart, the "chief" organ of the body, also wed metaphorically.

The ran is the name which was essential to man, as also to inanimate things. Without a name nothing really existed. The knowledge. of the name gave power over its owner; a great myth turns on Isis obtaining the name of Ra by stratagem, and thus getting the two eyes of Ra--the sun and moon--for her son Horus. Both in ancient and modern races the knowledge of the real name of a man is carefully guarded, and often secondary

p. 48

names are used for secular purposes. It was usual for Egyptians to have a "great name" and a "little name"; the great name is often compounded with that of a god or a king, and was very probably reserved for religious purposes, as it is only found on religious and funerary monuments.

We must not suppose by any means that all of these parts of the person were equally important, or were believed in simultaneously. The ka, khu, and khat seem to form one group; the ba and sehu belong to another; the ab, hati, and sekhem are hardly more than metaphors, such as we commonly use; the khaybet is a later idea which probably belongs to the system of animism and witchcraft, where the shadow gave a hold upon the man. The ran, name, belongs partly to the same system, but also is the germ of the later philosophy of idea.

The purpose of religion to the Egyptian was to secure the favor of the god. There is but little trace of negative prayer to avert evils or deprecate evil influences, but rather of positive prayer for concrete favors. On the part of kings this is usually of the Jacob type, offering to provide temples and services to the god in return for material prosperity. The Egyptian was essentially self-satisfied, he had no confession to make of sin or wrong, and

p. 49

had no thought of pardon. In the judgment he boldly averred that he was free of the forty-two sins that might prevent his entry into the kingdom of Osiris. If he failed to establish his innocence in the weighing of his heart, there was no other plea, but he was consumed by fire and by a hippopotamus, and no hope remained for him.

THE EGYPTIAN VIEW OF FUTURE LIFE

The various beliefs of the Egyptians regarding the future life are so distinct from each other and so incompatible, that they may be classified into groups more readily than the theology; thus they serve to indicate the varied sources of the religion.

The most simple form of belief was that of the continued existence of the soul in the tomb and about the cemetery. In upper Egypt at present a hole is left at the top of the tomb chamber; and I have seen a woman remove the covering of the hole, and talk down to her deceased husband. Also funeral offerings of food and drink, and even beds, are still placed in the tombs. A similar feeling, without any precise beliefs, doubtless prompted the earlier forms of provision for the dead. The soul wandered around the tomb seeking sustenance, and was fed by the goddess who dwelt in the thick

p. 50

sycamore trees that overshadowed the cemetery. She is represented as pouring out drink for the ba and holding a tray of cakes for it to feed upon. In the grave we find this belief shown by the jars of water, wine, and perhaps other liquids, the stores of corn, the geese, haunches and heads of oxen, the cakes, and dates, and pomegranates which were laid by the dead. In an early king's tomb there might be many rooms full of these offerings. There were also the weapons for defence and for the chase, the toilet objects, the stores of clothing, the draughtsmen, and even the literature of papyri buried with the dead. The later form of this system was the representation of all these offerings in sculpture and drawing in the tomb. This modification probably belongs to the belief in the ka, which could be supported by the ka of the food and use the ka of the various objects, the figures of the objects being supposed to provide the kas of them. This system is entirely complete in itself, and does not presuppose or require any theologic connection. It might well belong to an age of simple animism, and be a survival of that in later times.

The greatest theologic system was that of the kingdom of Osiris. This was a counterpart of the earthly life, but was reserved for the worthy. All

p. 51

the dead belonged to Osiris and were brought before him for judgment. The protest of being innocent of the forty-two sins was made, and then the heart was weighed against truth, symbolised by the ostrich feather, the emblem of the goddess of truth. From this feather, the emblem of lightness, being placed against the heart in weighing, it seems that sins were considered to weigh down the heart, and its lightness required to be proved. Thoth, the god who recorded the weighing, then stated that the soul left the judgment hall true of voice with his heart and members restored to him, and that he should follow Osiris in his kingdom. This kingdom of Osiris was at first thought of as being in the marsh lands of the Delta; when these became familiar it was transferred to Syria, and finally to the northeast of the sky, where the milky way became the heavenly Nile. The main occupation in this kingdom was agriculture, as on earth; the souls ploughed the land, sowed the corn, and reaped the harvest of heavenly maize, taller and fatter than any of this world. In this land they rowed on the heavenly streams, they sat in shady arbors, and played the games which they had loved. But the cultivation was a toil, and therefore it was to be done by numerous serfs. In the beginning of the

p. 52

monarchy it seems that the servants of the king were all buried around him to serve him in the future; from the second to the twelfth dynasty we lose sight of this idea, and then we find slave figures buried in the tombs. These figures were provided with the hoe for tilling the soil, the pick for breaking the clods, a basket for carrying the earth, a pot for watering the crops, and they were inscribed with an order to respond for their master when he was called on to work in the fields. In the eighteenth dynasty the figures sometimes have actual tool models buried with them; but usually the tools are in relief or painted on the figure. This idea continued until the less material view of the future life arose in Greek times; then the deceased man was said to have "gone to Osiris" in such a year of his age, but no slave figures were laid with him. This view of the future is complete in itself, and is appropriately provided for in the tomb.

A third view of the future life belongs to an entirely different theologic system, that of the progress of the sun-god Ra. According to this the soul went to join the setting sun in the west, and prayed to be allowed to enter the boat of the sun in the company of the gods; thus it would be taken along in everlasting light, and saved from the terrors and

p. 53

demons of the night over which the sun triumphed. No occupations were predicated of this future; simply to rest in the divine company was the entire purpose, and the successful repelling of the powers of darkness in each hour of the night by means of spells was the only activity. To provide for the solar journey a model boat was placed in the tomb with the figures of boatmen, to enable the dead to sail with the sun, or to reach the solar bark. This view of the future implied a journey to the west, and hence came the belief in the soul setting out to cross the desert westward. We find also an early god of the dead, Khent-amenti, "he who is in the west," probably arising from this same view. This god was later identified with Osiris when the fusion of the two theories of the soul arose. At Abydos Khent-amenti only is named at first, and Osiris does not appear until later times, though that cemetery came to be regarded as specially dedicated to Osiris.

Now in all these views that we have named there is no occasion for preserving the body. It is the Ba that is fed in the cemetery not the body. It is an immaterial body that takes part in the kingdom of Osiris, in the sky. It is an immaterial body that can accompany the gods in the boat of the sun. There is so far no call to conserve the body by the

p. 54

peculiar mummification which first appears in the early dynasties. The dismemberment of the bones, and removal of the flesh, which was customary in the prehistoric times, and survived down to the fifth dynasty, would accord with any of these theories, all of which were probably pre-dynastic. But the careful mummifying of the body became customary only in the third or fourth dynasty, and is therefore later than the theories that we have noticed. The idea of thus preserving the body seems to look forward to some later revival of it on earth, rather than to a personal life immediately after death. The funeral accompaniment of this view was the abundance of amulets placed on various parts of the body to preserve it. A few amulets are found worn on a necklace or bracelet in early times; but the full development of the amulet system was in the twenty-sixth to thirtieth dynasties.

We have tried to disentangle the diverse types of belief, by seeing what is incompatible between them. But in practice we find every form of mixture of these views in most ages. In the prehistoric times the preservation of the bones, but not of the flesh, was constant; and food offerings show that at least the theory of the soul wandering in the cemetery was familiar. Probably the Osiris theory is also

p. 55

of the later prehistoric times, as the myth of Osiris is certainly older than the dynasties. The Ra worship was associated specially with Heliopolis, and may have given rise to the union with Ra also before the dynasties, when Heliopolis was probably a capital of the kings of lower Egypt. The boats figured on the prehistoric tomb at Hierakonpolis bear this out. In the first dynasty there is no mummy known, funeral offerings abound, and the khu and ka are named. Our documents do not give any evidence, then, of the Osiris and Ra theories. In the pyramid period the king was called the Osiris, and this view is the leading one in the pyramid inscriptions, yet the Ra theory is also incompatibly present; the body is mummified; but funeral offerings of food seem to have much diminished. In the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties the Ra theory gained ground greatly over the Osirian; and the basis of all the views of the future is almost entirely the union with Ra during the night and day. The mummy and amulet theory was not dominant; but the funeral offerings somewhat increased. The twenty-sixth dynasty almost dropped the Ra theory; the Osirian kingdom and its population of slave figures is the most familiar view, and the preservation of the body by amulets

p. 56

was essential. Offerings of food rarely appear in these later times. This dominance of Osiris leads on to the anthropomorphic worship, which interacts on the growth of Christianity as we shall see further. Lastly, when all the theologic views of the future had perished, the oldest idea of all, food, drink, and rest for the dead, has still kept its hold upon the feelings of the people in spite of the teachings of Islam.

THE WORSHIP OF ANIMALS IN ANCIENT EGYPT

The worship of animals has been known in many countries; but in Egypt it was maintained to a later pitch of civilization than elsewhere, and the mixture of such a primitive system with more elevated beliefs seemed as strange to the Greek as it does to us. The original motive was a kinship of animals with man, much like that underlying the system of totems. Each place or tribe had its sacred species that was linked with the tribe; the life of the species was carefully preserved, excepting in the one example selected for worship, which after a given time was killed and sacramentally eaten by the tribe. This was certainly the case with the bull at Memphis and the ram at Thebes. That it was the whole species that was sacred, at one place or another,

p. 57

is shown by the penalties for killing any animal of the species, by the wholesale burial and even mummifying of every example, and by the plural form of the names of the gods later connected with the animals, Heru, hawks, Khnumu, rams, etc.

In the prehistoric times the serpent was sacred; figures of the coiled serpent were hung up in the house and worn as an amulet; similarly in historic times a figure of the agathodemon serpent was placed in a temple of Amen-hotep III at Benha. In the first dynasty the serpent was figured in pottery, as a fender around the hearth. The hawk also appears in many pre-dynastic figures, large and small, both worn on the person and carried as standards. The lion is found both in life-size temple figures, lesser objects of worship, and personal amulets. The scorpion was similarly honored in the prehistoric ages.

It is difficult to separate now between animals which were worshipped quite independently, and those which were associated as emblems of anthropomorphic gods. Probably we shall be right in regarding both classes of animals as having been sacred at a remote time, and the connection with the human form as being subsequent. The ideas connected with the animals were those of their most

p. 58

prominent characteristics; hence it appears that it was for the sake of the character that each animal was worshipped, and not because of any fortuitous association with a tribe.

The baboon was regarded as the emblem of Tahuti, the god of wisdom; the serious expression and human ways of the large baboons are an obvious cause for their being regarded as the wisest of animals. Tahuti is represented as a baboon from the first dynasty down to late times, and four baboons were sacred in his temple at Hemmopolis. These four baboons were often portrayed as adoring the sun; this idea is due to their habit of chattering at sunrise.

The lioness appears in the compound figures of the goddesses Sekhet, Bast, Mahes, and Tefnut. In the form of Sekhet the lioness is the destructive power of Ra, the sun: it is Sekhet who, in the legend, destroys mankind from Herakleopolis to Heliopolis at the bidding of Ra. The other lioness goddesses are probably likewise destructive or hunting deities. The lesser felidæ also appear; the cheetah and serval are sacred to Hathor in Sinai; the small cats are sacred to Bast, especially at Speos Artemidos and Bubastis.

The bull was sacred in many places, and his worship 

p. 59

underlay that of the human gods, who were said to be incarnated in him. The idea is that of the fighting power, as when the king is figured as a bull trampling on his enemies, and the reproductive power, as in the title of the self-renewing gods, "bull of his mother." The most renowned was the Hapi or Apis bull of Memphis, in whom Ptah was said to be incarnate and who was Osirified and became the Osir-hapi. Thus appears to have originated the great Ptolemaic god Serapis, as certainly the mausoleum of the bulls was the Serapeum of the Greeks. Another bull of a more massive breed was the Ur-mer or Mnevis of Heliopolis, in whom Ra was incarnate. A third bull was Bakh or Bakis of Hermonthis the incarnation of Mentu. And a fourth bull, Kan-nub or Kanobos, was worshipped at the city of that name. The cow was identified with Hathor, who appears with cow's ears and horns, and who is probably the cow-goddess Ashtaroth or Istar of Asia. Isis, as identified with Hathor, is also joined in this connection.

The ram was also worshipped as a procreative god; at Mendes in the Delta identified with Osiris, at Herakleopolis identified with Hershefi, at Thebes as Amon, and at the Cataract as Khnumu 

p. 60

the creator. The association of the ram with Amon was strongly held by the Ethiopians; and in the Greek tale of Nektanebo, the last Pharaoh, having by magic visited Olympias and become the father of Alexander, he came as the incarnation of Amon wearing the ram's skin.

The hippopotamus was the goddess Ta-urt, "the great one," the patroness of pregnancy, who is never shown in any other form. Rarely this animal appears as the emblem of the god Set.

The jackal haunted the cemeteries on the edge of the desert, and so came to be taken as the guardian of the dead, and identified with Anubis, the god of departing souls. Another aspect of the jackal was as the maker of tracks in the desert; the jackal paths are the best guides to practicable courses, avoiding the valleys and precipices, and so the animal was known as Up-uat, "the opener of ways," who showed the way for the dead across the western desert. Species of dogs seem to have been held sacred and mummified on merely the general ground of confusion with the jackal. The ichneumon and the shrewmouse were also held sacred, though not identified with a human god.

The hawk was the principal sacred bird, and was identified with Horus and Ra, the sun-god. It was

p. 61

mainly worshipped at Edfu and Hierakonpolis. The souls of kings were supposed to fly up to heaven in the form of hawks, perhaps due to the kingship originating in the hawk district in upper Egypt. Seker, the god of the dead, appears as a mummified hawk, and on his boat are many small hawks, perhaps the souls of kings who have joined him. The mummy hawk is also Sopdu, the god of the east.

The vulture was the emblem of maternity, as being supposed to care especially for her young. Hence she is identified with Mut, the mother goddess of Thebes. The queen-mothers have vulture head-dresses; the vulture is shown hovering over kings to protect them, and a row of spread-out vultures are figured on the roofs of the tomb passages to protect the soul. The ibis was identified with Tahuti, the god of Hermopolis. The goose is connected with Amon of Thebes. The swallow was also sacred.

The crocodile was worshipped especially in the Fayum, where it frequented the marshy levels of the great lake, and Strabo's description of the feeding of the sacred crocodile there is familiar. It was also worshipped at Onuphis; and at Nubti or Ombos it was identified with Set, and held sacred.

p. 62

[paragraph continues] Beside the name of Sebek or Soukhos in Fayum, it was there identified with Osiris as the western god of the dead. The frog was an emblem of the goddess Heqt, but was not worshipped.

The cobra serpent was sacred from the earliest times to the present day. It was never identified with any of the great deities, but three goddesses appear in serpent form: Uazet, the Delta goddess of Buto; Mert-seger, "the lover of silence," the goddess of the Theban necropolis; and Rannut, the harvest goddess. The memory of great pythons of the prehistoric days appears in the serpent-necked monsters on the slate palettes at the beginning of the monarchy, and the immense serpent Agap of the underworld in the later mythology. The serpent has however been a popular object of worship apart from specific gods. We have already noted it on prehistoric amulets, and coiled round the hearths of the early dynasties. Serpents were mummified; and when we reach the full evidences of popular worship, in the terra-cotta figures and jewellery of later times, the serpent is very prominent. There were usually two represented together, one often with the head of Serapis, the other of Isis, so therefore male and female. Down to modern

p. 63

times a serpent is worshipped at Sheykh Heridy, and miraculous cures attributed to it (S. R. E. B. 213).

Various fishes were sacred, as the Oxyrhynkhos, Phagros, Lepidotos, Latos, and others; but they were not identified with gods, and we do not know of their being worshipped. The scorpion was the emblem of the goddess Selk, and is found in prehistoric amulets; but it is not known to have been adored, and most usually it represents evils, where Horus is shown overcoming noxious creatures.

It will be observed that nearly all of the animals which were worshipped had qualities for which they were noted, and in connection with which they were venerated. If the animal worship were due to totemism, or a sense of animal brotherhood in certain tribes, we must also assume that that was due to these qualities of the animal; whereas totemism in other countries does not seem to be due to veneration of special qualities of the animals. It is therefore more likely that the animal worship simply arose from the nature of the animals, and not from any true totemism, although each animal came to be associated with the worship of a particular tribe or district.

p. 64

THE GROUPS OF GODS

In a country which has been subjected to so many inflows of various peoples as has Egypt, it is to be expected that there would be a great diversity of deities and a complex and inconsistent theology. To discriminate the principal classes of conceptions of gods is the first step toward understanding the growth of the systems. The broad diversion of animal gods and human gods is obvious; and the mixed type of human figures with animal heads is clearly an adaptation of the animal gods to the later conception of a human god. Another valuable separator lies in the compound. names of gods. It is impossible to suppose a people uniting two gods, both of which belonged to them aboriginally; there would be no reason for two similar gods in a single system, and we never hear in classical mythology of Hermes-Apollo or Pallas-Artemis, while Zeus is compounded with half of the barbarian gods of Asia. So in Egypt, when we find such compounds as Amon-Ra, or Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, we have the certainty that each name in the compound is derived from a different race, and that a unifying operation has taken place on gods that belonged to entirely different sources.

p. 65

We must beware of reading our modern ideas into the ancient views. As we noticed in an earlier part of this chapter, each tribe or locality seems to have had but one god originally; certainly the more remote our view, the more separate are the gods. Hence to the people of any one district "the god" was a distinctive name for their own god; and it would have seemed as strange to discriminate him from the surrounding gods, as it would to a Christian in Europe if he specified that he did not mean Allah or Siva or Heaven when he speaks of God. Hence we find generic descriptions used in place of the god's name, as "lord of heaven," or "mistress of turquoise," while it is certain that specific gods as Osiris or Hathor are in view. A generic name "god" or "the god" no more implies that the Egyptians recognised a unity of all the gods, than "god" in the Old Testament implies that Yahvah was one with Chemosh and Baal. The simplicity of the term only shows that no other object of adoration was in view.

We have already noticed the purely animal gods; following on these we now shall describe those which were combined with a human form, then those which are purely human in their character, next those

p. 66

which are nature gods, and lastly those which are an abstract character.

Animal-headed Gods: Beside the worship of species of animals, which we have noticed in the last chapter, certain animals were combined with the human form. It was always the head of the animal which was united to a human body; the only converse instance of a human head on an animal body--the sphinxes--represented the king and not a god. Possibly the combination arose from priests wearing the heads of animals when personating the god, as the high priest wore the ram's skin when personating Amon. But when we notice the frequent combinations and love of symbolism, shown upon the early carvings, the union of the ancient sacred animal with the human form is quite in keeping with the views and feelings of the primitive Egyptians. Many of these composite gods never emerged from the animal connection, and these we must regard as belonging to the earlier stage of theology.

Seker was a Memphite god of the dead, independent of the worship of Osiris and of Ptah, for he was combined with them as Ptah-Seker-Osiris; as he maintained a place there in the face of the great worship of Ptah, he was probably an older god,

p. 67

and this is indicated by his having an entirely animal form down to a late date. The sacred bark of Seker bore his figure as that of a mummified hawk; and along the boat is a row of hawks which probably are the spirits of deceased kings who have joined Seker in his journey to the world of the dead. As there are often two allied forms of the same root, one written with k and the other with g1 it seems probable that Seker, the funeral god of Memphis, is allied to

Mert Seger (lover of silence). She was the funeral god of Thebes, and was usually figured as a serpent. From being only known in animal form, and unconnected with any of the elaborated theology, it seems that we have in this goddess a primitive deity of the dead. It appears, then, that the gods of the great cemeteries were known as Silence and the Lover of Silence, and both come down from the age of animal deities. Seker became in late times changed into a hawk-headed human figure.

Two important deities of early times were Nekhebt, the vulture goddess of the southern kingdom, centred at Hierakonpolis, and Uazet, the serpent goddess of the northern kingdom, centred at Buto. These appear in all ages as the emblems of the two

p. 68

kingdoms, frequently as supporters on either side of the royal names; in later times they appear as human goddesses crowning the king.

Khnumu, the creator, was the great god of the cataract. He is shown as making man upon the potter's wheel; and in a tale he is said to frame a woman. He must belong to a different source from that of Ptah or Ra, and was the creative principle in the period of animal gods, as he is almost always shown with the head of a ram. He was popular down to late times, where amulets of his figure are often found.

Tahuti, or Thôth, was the god of writing and learning, and was the chief deity of Hermopolis. He almost always has the head of an ibis, the bird sacred to him. The baboon is also a frequent emblem of his, but he is never figured with the baboon head. The ibis appears standing upon a shrine as early as on a tablet of Mena; Thôth is the constant recorder in scenes of the judgment, and he appears down to Roman times as the patron of scribes. The eighteenth dynasty of kings incorporated his name as Thôthmes, "born of Thôth," owing to their Hermopolite origin.

Skhmet is the lion goddess, who represents the fierceness of the sun's heat. She appears in the

p. 69

myth of the destruction of mankind as slaughtering the enemies of Ra. Her only form is that with the head of a lioness. But she blends imperceptibly with

Bastet, who has the head of a cat. She was the goddess of Pa-bast or Bubastis, and in her honor immense festivals were there held. Her name is found in the beginning of the pyramid times; but her main period of popularity was that of the Shisaks who ruled from Bubastis, and in the later times images of her were very frequent as amulets. It is possible from the name that this feline goddess, whose foreign origin is acknowledged, was the female form of the god Bes, who is dressed in a lion's skin, and also came in from the east.

Mentu was the hawk-god of Erment south of Thebes, who became in the eighteenth to twentieth dynasties especially the god of war. He appears with the hawk head, or sometimes as a hawk-headed sphinx; and he became confused with Ra and with Amon.

Sebek is figured as a man with the crocodile's head; but he has no theologic importance, and always remained the local god of certain districts.

Heqt, the goddess symbolised by the frog, was the patron of birth, and assisted in the infancy of

p. 70

the kings. She was a popular and general deity not mainly associated with particular places.

Hershefi was the ram-headed god of Herakleopolis, but is never found outside of that region.

We now come to three animal-headed gods who became associated with the great Osiride group of human gods. Set or Setesh was the god of the prehistoric inhabitants before the coming in of Horus. He is always shown with the head of a fabulous animal, having upright square ears and a long nose. When in entirely animal form he has a long upright tail. The dog-like animal is the earliest type, as in the second dynasty; but later the human form with animal head prevailed. His worship underwent great fluctuations. At first he was the great god of all Egypt; but his worshippers were gradually driven out by the followers of Horus, as described in a semi-mythical history. Then he appears strongly in the second dynasty, the last king of which united the worship of Set and Horus. After suppression he appears in favor in the early eighteenth dynasty; and even gave the name to Sety I and II of the nineteenth dynasty. His part in the Osiris myth will be noted below.

Anpu or Anubis was originally the jackal guardian of the cemetery, and the leader of the dead in

p. 71

the other world. Nearly all the early funeral formulæ mention Anpu on his hill, or Anpu lord of the underworld. As the patron of the dead he naturally took a place in the myth of Osiris, the god of the dead, and appears as leading the soul into the judgment of Osiris.

Horus was the hawk-god of upper Egypt, especially of Edfu and Hierakonpolis. Though originally an independent god, and even keeping apart as Hor-ur, "Horus the elder," throughout later times, yet he was early mingled with the Osiris myth, probably as the ejector of Set who was also the enemy of Osiris. He is sometimes entirely in hawk form; more usually with a hawk's head, and in later times he appears as the infant son of Isis entirely human in form. His special function is that of overcoming evil; in the earliest days the conqueror of Set, later as the subduer of noxious animals, figured on a very popular amulet, and lastly, in Roman times, as a hawk-headed warrior on horseback slaying a dragon, thus passing into the type of St. George. He also became mingled with early Christian ideas; and the lock of hair of Horus attached to the cross originated the chi rho monogram of Christ.

We have now passed briefly over the principal

p. 72

gods which combined the animal and human forms. We see how the animal form is generally the older, and bow it was apparently independent of the human form, which has been attached to it by a more anthropomorphic people. We see that all of these gods must be accredited to the second stratum, if not, to the earliest formation, of religion in Egypt. And we must associate with this theology the cemetery theory of the soul which preceded that of the Osiris or Ra religions.

We now turn to the deities which are always represented in human form, and never associated with animal figures; neither do they originate in a cosmic--or nature--worship, nor in abstract idea. There are three divisions of this class, the Osiris family, the Amon family, and the goddess Neit.

GODS IN HUMAN FORM

Osiris--Asar or Asir--is the most familiar figure of the pantheon, but it is mainly on late sources that we have to depend for the myth; and his worship was so much adapted to harmonize with other ideas, that care is needed to trace his true position. The Osiride portions of the Book of the Dead are certainly very early, and precede the solar portions, though both views were already mingled in the

p. 73

pyramid texts. We cannot doubt but that the Osiris worship reaches back to the prehistoric age. In the earliest tombs offering to Anubis is named, for whom Osiris became substituted in the fifth and sixth dynasties. In the pyramid times we only find that kings are termed Osiris, having undergone their apotheoisis at the sed festival; but in the eighteenth dynasty and onward every justified person was entitled the Osiris, as being united with the god. His worship was unknown at Abydos in the earlier temples, and is not mentioned at the cataracts; though in later times he became the leading deity of Abydos and of Philæ. Thus in all directions the recognition of Osiris continued to increase; but, looking at the antiquity of his cult, we must recognize in this change the gradual triumph of a popular religion over a state religion which had been superimposed upon it. The earliest phase of Osirism that we can identify is in portions of the Book of the Dead. These assume the kingdom of Osiris, and a judgment preceding admission to the blessed future; the completely human character of Osiris and his family are implied, and there is no trace of animal or nature worship belonging to him. How far the myth, as recorded in Roman times by Plutarch, can be traced to earlier and later sources is

p. 74

very uncertain. The main outlines, which may be primitive, are as follows. Osiris was a civilising king of Egypt, who was murdered by his brother Set and seventy-two conspirators. Isis, his wife, found the coffin of Osiris at Byblos in Syria and brought it to Egypt. Set then tore up the body of Osiris and scattered it. Isis sought the fragments, and built a shrine over each of them. Isis and Horus then attacked Set and drove him from Egypt, and finally down the Red Sea. In other aspects Osiris seems to have been a corn god, and the scattering of his body in Egypt is like the well-known division of the sacrifice to the corn god, and the burial of parts in separate fields to ensure their fertility.

How we are to analyse the formation of the early myths is suggested by the known changes of later times. When two tribes who worshipped different (rods fought together and one overcame the other, the god of the conqueror is always considered to have overcome the god of the vanquished. The struggle of Horus and Set is expressly stated on the Temple of Edfu to have been a tribal war, in which the followers of Horus overcame those of Set, established garrisons and forges at various places down the Nile Valley, and finally ousted the Set party from the whole land. We can hardly therefore

p. 75

avoid reading the history of the animosities of the gods as being the struggles of their worshippers.

If we try to trace the historic basis of the Osiris myth, we must take into account the early customs and ideas among which the myths arose. The cutting up of the body was the regular ritual of the prehistoric people, and, even as late as the fifth dynasty, the bones were separately treated, and even wrapped up separately when the body was reunited for burial. We must also notice the apotheosis festival of the king, which was probably his sacrificial death and union with the god, in the prehistoric age. The course of events which might have served as the basis for the Osiris myth may then have been somewhat as follows. Osiris was the god of a tribe which occupied a large part of Egypt. The kings of this tribe were sacrificed after thirty years' reign--like the killing of kings at fixed intervals elsewhere--and they thus became the Osiris himself. Their bodies were dismembered, as usual at that period, the flesh ceremonially eaten by the assembled people--as was done in prehistoric times--and the bones distributed among the various centres of the tribe, the head to Abydos, the neck, spine, limbs, etc., to various places of which there were fourteen in all. The worshippers of Set broke

p. 76

in upon this people, stopped this worship, or killed Osiris, as was said, and established the dominion of their animal god. They were in turn attacked by the Isis worshippers, who joined the older population of the Osiris tribe, reopened the shrines, and established Osiris worship again. The Set tribe returning in force attacked the Osiris tribe and scattered all the relies of the shrines in every part of the land. To re-establish their power, the Osiris and Isis tribes called in the worshippers of the hawk Horus, who were old enemies of the Set tribe, and with their help finally expelled the Set worshippers from the whole country. Such a history, somewhat misunderstood in a later age when the sacrifice of kings and anthropophagy was forgotten, would give the basis for nearly all the features of the Osiris myth as recorded in Roman times.

If we try to materialize this history more closely, we see that the Osiris worshippers occupied both the Delta and upper Egypt, and that fourteen important centres were recognised at the earliest time, which afterwards became the capitals of nomes, and were added to until they numbered forty-two divisions in later ages. Set was the god of the Asiatic invaders who broke in upon this civilization; and about a quarter through the long ages of the prehistoric

p. 77

culture, perhaps 7500 B.C., we find material evidences of considerable changes brought in from the Arabian or Semitic side. It may not be unlikely that this was the first triumph of Set. The Isis worshippers came from the Delta, where Isis was worshipped at Buto as a virgin goddess, apart from Osiris or Horus. These followers of Isis succeeded in helping the rest of the early Libyan inhabitants to resist the Set worship, and re-establish Osiris. The close of the prehistoric age is marked by a great decline in work and abilities, very likely due to more trouble from Asia, when Set scattered the relies of Osiris. Lastly we cannot avoid seeing in the Horus triumph the conquest of Egypt by the dynastic race who came down from the district of Edfu and Hierakonpolis, the centres of Horus worship; and helped the older inhabitants to drive out the Asiatics. Nearly the same chain of events is seen in later times, when the Berber king Aahmes I helped the Egyptians to expel the Hyksos. If we can thus succeed in connecting the archæology of the prehistoric age with the history preserved in the myths, it shows that Osiris must have been the national god as early as the beginning of prehistoric culture. His civilizing mission may

p. 78

well have been the introduction of cultivation, at about 8000 B.C., into the Nile Valley.

The theology of Osiris was at first that of a god of those holy fields in which the souls of the dead enjoyed a future fife. There was necessarily some selection to exclude the wicked from such happiness, and Osiris judged each soul whether it were worthy. This judgment became elaborated in detailed scenes, where Isis and Neb-hat stand behind Osiris who is on his throne, Anubis leads in the soul, the heart is placed in the balance, and Thôth stands to weigh it and to record the result. The occupation of the souls in this future we have noticed in an earlier part of this chapter. The function of Osiris was therefore the reception and rule of the dead, and we never find him as a god of action or patronizing any of the affairs of life.

Isis--Aset or Isit--became attached at a very early time to the Osiris worship; and appears in later myths as the sister and wife of Osiris. But she always remained on a very different plane to Osiris. Her worship and priesthood were far more popular than those of Osiris, and she appears far more usually in the activities of life. Her union in the Osiris myth by no means blotted out her independent position and importance as a deity,

p. 79

though it gave her a far more widespread devotion. The union of Horus with the myth, and the establishment of Isis as the mother goddess, was the main mode of her importance in later times. Isis as the nursing mother is seldom shown until the twenty-sixth dynasty; then the type continually became more popular, until it outgrew all other religions of the country. In the Roman times the mother Isis not only received the devotion of all Egypt, but her worship spread rapidly abroad, like that of Mithra. It became the popular devotion of Italy; and, after a change of name due to the growth of Christianity, she has continued to receive the adoration of a large part of Europe down to the present day as the Madonna.

Nephthys--Neb-hat--was a shadowy double of Isis; reputedly her sister, and always associated with her, she seems to have no other function. Her name, "mistress of the palace," suggests that she was the consort of Osiris at the first, as a necessary but passive complement in the system of his kingdom. When the active Isis worship entered into the renovation of Osiris, Nebhat remained of nominal importance, but practically ignored.

Horus--Heru or Horu--has a more complex history than any other god. We cannot assign

p. 80

the various stages of it with certainty, but we can discriminate the following ideas:

(a) There was an elder or greater Horus, Hor-ur--or Aroeris of the Greeks--who was credited with being the brother of Osiris, older than Isis, Set, or Nephthys. He was always in human form, and was the god of Letopolis. This seems to have been the primitive god of a tribe cognate to the Osiris worshippers. What connection this god had with the hawk we do not know; often Horus is found written without the hawk, simply as hr, with the meaning of "upper" or "above." This word generally has the determinative of sky, and so means primitively the sky or one belonging to the sky. It is at least possible that there was a sky-god her at Letopolis, and likewise the hawk-god was a sky-god her at Edfu, and hence the mixture of the two deities.

(b) The hawk-god of the south, at Edfu and Hierakonpolis, became so firmly embedded in the myth as the avenger of Osiris, that we must accept the southern people as the ejectors of the Set tribe. It is always the hawk-headed Horus who wars against Set, and attends on the enthroned Osiris.

(c) The hawk Horus became identified with the

p. 81

sun-god, and hence came the winged solar disk as the emblem of Horus of Edfu, and the title of Horus on the horizons--at rising and setting--Hor-emakhti, Harmakhis of the Greeks.

(d) Another aspect resulting from Horus being the "sky" god, was that the sun and moon were his two eyes; hence he was Hor-merti, Horus of the two eyes; and the sacred eye of Horus--uza--became the most usual of all amulets.

(e) Horus, as conqueror of Set, appears as the hawk standing on the sign of gold, nub, nubti was the title of Set, and thus Horus is shown trampling upon Set; this became a usual title of the kings. There are many less important forms of Horus, but the form which outgrew all others in popular estimation was

(f) Hor-pe-khroti, Harpokrates of the Greeks, "Horus the child." As the son of Isis he constantly appears from the nineteenth dynasty onward. One of the earlier of these forms is that of the boy Horus standing upon crocodiles, and grasping scorpions and noxious animals in his hands. This type was a favorite amulet down to Ptolemaic times, and is often found carved in stone to be placed in a house, but was scarcely ever made in other materials or for suspension on the person,

p. 82

[paragraph continues] The form of the young Horus seated on an open lotus flower was also popular in the Greek times. But the infant Horus with his finger to his lips was the most popular form of all, sometimes alone, sometimes on his mother's lap. The finger, which pointed to his being a sucking child, was absurdly misunderstood by the Greeks as an emblem of silence. From the twenty-sixth dynasty down to late Roman times the infant Horus, or the young boy, was the most prominent subject on the temples, and the commonest figure in the homes of the people.

The other main group of human gods was Amon, Mut, and Khonsu of Thebes. Amon was the local god of Karnak, and owed his importance in Egypt to the political rise of his district. The Theban kingdom of the twelfth dynasty spread his fame, the great kings of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasty ascribed their victories to Amon, his high priest became a political power which absorbed the state after the twentieth dynasty, and the importance of the god only ceased with the fall of his city. The original attributes and the origin of the name of Amon are unknown; but he became combined with Ra, the sun-god, and as Amon-Ra he was "king of the gods," and "lord of the thrones

p. 83

of the world." The supremacy of Amon was for some centuries an article of political faith, and many other gods were merged in him, and only survived as aspects of the great god of all. The queens were the high priestesses of the god, and he was the divine father of their children; the kings being only incarnations of Amon in their relation to the queens.

Mut, the great mother, was the goddess of Thebes, and hence the consort of Amon. She is often shown as leading and protecting the kings, and the queens appear in the character of this goddess. Little is known about her otherwise.

Khonsu is a youthful god combined in the Theban system as the son of Amon and Mut. He is closely parallel to Thôth as being a god of time, as a moon god, and of science, "the executor of plans." A large temple was dedicated to him at Karnak, but otherwise he was not of religious importance.

Neit was a goddess of the Libyan people; but her worship was firmly implanted by them in Egypt. She was a goddess of hunting and of weaving, the two arts of a nomadic people. Her emblem was a distaff with two crossed arrows, and her name was written with a figure of a weaver's shuttle.

p. 84

[paragraph continues] She was adored in the first dynasty, when the name Merneit, "loved by Neit," occurs; and her priesthood was one of the most usual in the pyramid period. She was almost lost to sight during some thousands of years, but she became the state goddess of the twenty-sixth dynasty, when the Libyans set up their capital in her city of Sais. In later times she again disappears from customary religion.

SUN AND SKY GODS

The gods which personify the sun and sky stand apart in their essential idea from those already described, although they were largely mixed and combined with other classes of gods. So much did this mixture pervade all the later views that some writers have seen nothing but varying forms of sun-worship in Egyptian religion. It will have been noticed however in the foregoing what a large body of theology was entirely apart from the sun-worship, while here we treat the latter as separate from the other elements with which it was more or less combined.

Ra was the great sun-god to whom every king pledged himself, by adopting on his accession a motto-title embodying the god's name such as Ra-men-kau, "Ra established the kas"; Ra-sehotep-ab,

p. 85

[paragraph continues] "Ra satisfied the heart"; Ra-neb-maat, "Ra is the lord of truth," and these titles were those by which the king was best known ever after. This devotion was not primitive, but began in the fourth dynasty, and was established by the fifth dynasty being called sons of Ra, and every later king having the title "son of Ra" before his name. The obelisk was the emblem of Ra, and in the fifth dynasty a great obelisk temple was built in his honor at Abusir,
  

[ Back to The Wisdom of the Egyptians | Sections Index ]

The Book of THOTH

The Mysteries of the Tarot, Crowley, Magick and Egypt revealed at The Book of THOTH

www.the-book-of-thoth.com