A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 3)
So – we’re back! Let’s continue with our exploration of some key points of Egyptian Mythology that are important to my book.
Memphis: The Triad of Memphis
Okay, so rule one. Forget everything you read last week about the Great Ennead in Heliopolis. You’re in Memphis now, so different rules apply.
Ptah: Ptah was the first god. I know, I know, you read last week that Atum was the first god. I don’t know what to tell you. We’re not in Heliopolis anymore, Toto. This is the way Ancient Egyptian Religion works. Ptah was seen as the creator god in Memphis and was the god of craftsmanship and architecture. Like Osiris, he was depicted with green skin.
Sekhmet: Sekhmet was Ptah’s wife and sometimes said to be the daughter of Ra. She is another Egyptian goddess portrayed with the head of a lion – she was the goddess of war, so no surprise there. But, she was also seen as the protector of Pharaohs and the goddess of healing.
Nefertem: Nefertem was the son of Ptah and Sekhmet and was associated with the first sunlight, the sun, and the lotus flower.
Abydos: Just That One Guy, Osiris
During the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (the time in which my story is set) the worship of Osiris by both royalty and the masses grew. This cult center was in Abydos, which was far from Heliopolis and Memphis. Osiris was seen to be the ruler of the afterlife, and perhaps because of this, the Egyptian people began to place more importance on him. It is logical to assume that since the Middle Kingdom arose out of the chaos of the First Intermediate Period, people began to think more about the afterlife.
People would travel from all over Egypt to celebrate Osiris and reenact important elements of the Osiris myth in Abydos (in my story, I extend the celebrations to also take place in the Egyptian capital, something I thought would be logical).
As I mentioned before, there are not that many fully-drawn-out myths in Egyptian religion. The Osiris Myth is one of the few and the most influential. The very brief (and sanitized, yikes) version is this:
Osiris is the ancient king of Egypt, and his younger brother, Set, is jealous of his rule and power. Set murders Osiris and assumes the throne.
Osiris’ wife, Isis, searches far and wide for his body, and eventually finds him. She is able to return him to a form of life for a short time and she becomes pregnant with a son, Horus.
Osiris, with a legitimate heir now in place, descends into underworld to rule since he is not truly alive. Horus must take his rightful place once he is grown, and dethrone Set.
Horus is faced with many dangers growing up, sometimes sent after him by Set. Isis, with her magic and cunning, defends or heals him from each.
Once Horus is grown, he and Set face off in a series of battles. One of the most famous episodes, in which Set takes one of Horus’ eyes, results in the famous “Eye of Horus” symbol, commonly associated with ancient Egypt and used as a symbol of protection. Horus eventually triumphs (in many versions anyway – remember, Egyptian mythology is nothing if not inconsistent) and order is restored. Horus rules in Egypt and Osiris rules the dead.
This concept of order and balance is a critical point of Egyptian mythology. Called ma’at, it will be the focus of my post next week.
I want to leave you with a note that basically every single thing I have told you about in the last two posts has a different version (or many different versions) somewhere else. For instance, we have many different retellings of the Osiris Myth as well as different recordings of its celebrations, both from Egyptian sources and from famous non-Egyptian personages such as Plutarch and Herodotus. Sometimes a specific element may only be found in one version.
What I’ve attempted to do here is give you a baseline familiarity with a standard, not-too-esoteric version of these parts of the mythology. If you have questions or want more information, comment below!
(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 .)