A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 2)
Okay, so like I said last time, trying to sort through Ancient Egyptian Religion is like trying to sort through the most bonkers rabbit hole you have ever encountered.
With that in mind, I have also known that this post would have to come down the pipeline eventually. And I have been worrying about it since – basically since I started blogging. So, September.
As I write this, it is December 31st. So, a good four months.
So, here I am, buckling down, going to get it done. It’s now or never, and now, for the first time, I actually have a plan.
I have decided that there’s no way I’m going to be able to properly cover everything we know about every Egyptian deity. That’s what an encyclopedia is for. Further, I have finally convinced myself that no one is expecting me to be an encyclopedia, and that neither should I aspire to be one.
So, instead of attempting to imitate an encyclopedia (which I would fail at spectacularly), what I am going to do is give you a brief overview of the religious landscape in Egypt during the time during which my story is set (Twelfth Dynasty), specifically focusing on the deities and/or cult centers mentioned in my book. That way, I do not have to cover an entire pantheon with four thousand plus years of history (you can probably see why I have been stressing about this).
So, let’s break it down by those cult centers. You may remember I mentioned these in my last post. Basically, these are centers of worship that subscribe to a very specific understanding of the Egyptian religion and specifically venerate a deity or group of deities. They do not necessarily ignore the others, but priests or priestesses at a cult center certainly viewed their deity/deities as the most important. (There were also a lot of politics and power plays that fed into this, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)
The cult centers we will be discussing are:
Some of these names may be familiar to you, particularly Memphis. That is because these cult centers were also cities. Not everyone in the city were religious personnel, but there would have been large areas of the city dedicated to worship.
Each of these cities focused on a very different aspect of the Egyptian pantheon.
Heliopolis: The Great Ennead (Egyptian name Pesedjet)
This is the biggie. The Great Ennead is a group of nine (sometimes ten) deities, worshiped in Heliopolis as the preeminent gods and goddesses. It was thought that together they created the great council of the gods. There were also little Enneads that I won’t talk about here.
In the Ennead were:
Atum-Ra: Atum was the first god. Note that this did not make him the head honcho. At some points, and in Heliopolis, he was combined with Ra (the king of the gods, god of the sun and creator of life) to become Atum-Ra, thus making him both the first and king of the gods.
Shu: Atum’s son. He was a chill guy with power over the air and wind, and associated with peace.
Tefnut: Atum’s daughter. Also Shu’s wife (bleh, I know). One of the goddesses who gets to be drawn with a lion’s head sometimes, which means she has anger issues. She was associated with rain and moisture.
Geb: The son of Shu and Tefnut and the god of the earth. He was also associated with snakes.
Nut: The daughter of Shu and Tefnut and the goddess of the sky and cosmos. Wife of Geb.
Osiris: Yay for the first name since Ra that probably sounds familiar to you! Osiris was the son of Geb and Nut and was the god of death and rebirth. He was the judge of the dead and often was drawn with green skin – green symbolized rebirth. There was a whole cult dedicated to him (in Abydos), centered around the Osiris Myth, that we’ll talk about coming up here.
Isis: And another one you may have heard of! Isis was the daughter of Geb and Nut and the wife of Osiris. She had many traits both associated with her role in the Osiris Myth and the fact that the Pharaoh was connected thematically to her son, Horus. Overall, she was associated with birth, destiny, and magic, and portrayed as clever and cunning.
Set: The son of Geb and Nut, drawn with an animal head that we still can’t quite identify – though it has similarities to an aardvark or jackal. He plays a large part in the Osiris Myth as the antagonist and was the god of the desert, chaos, fire, and storms.
Nephthys: The daughter of Geb and Nut and wife of Set. She was, in many ways, his antithesis, seen as a goddess of nurturing and protection in life and death.
Horus: The tenth and optional member of the Ennead, son of Osiris and Isis. He also played a part in the Osiris Myth. He was portrayed with the head of a falcon and was seen as the protector and king of Egypt. For that reason, the Pharaoh was seen as an aspect of Horus. We’ll talk more about this in another post.
It is important to note that this particular mythology was only completely accepted by the followers of the Great Ennead in Heliopolis. Other cult centers might agree in part with this mythology, or not at all. As an example, we’ll move to nearby Memphis.
… In the next post.
I am mapping out this post and it, like Egyptian Mythology, is a bear. I can see your eyes starting to cross right now. So, I will leave you here, and we will pick up in Memphis next time!
(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)