The Egyptian gods were an important part of everyday life. Some of these deities are still famous today, such as Isis, Ra and Horus. More famous gods became state deities while they associated others with a specific region or, a ritual or role. The ancient Egyptian culture grew out of an understanding of these deities and the vital role they played in the journey of every human being.
The Egyptian gods developed from an animistic belief system to more humanistic and infused with magic. Heka was god of magic and medicine but was also the primordial force who enabled the act of creation and sustained both mortal and divine life, predating all the other gods.
The core belief of the Egyptian culture was ma’at – harmony and balance – represented by the goddess Ma’at and her white ostrich feather. It was Heka who empowered Ma’at and all the other deities. Heka was the manifestation of (magic) which they understood to be the natural laws. Today we consider it supernatural. But to the Egyptians, it was how the world and the universe functioned. The gods provided for the people, but it was Heka that allowed them to do so.
The Gods Transformed Over Time
Each god had its area of expertise and was associated with several aspects of human life. Hathor was the goddess of music, dancing and drunkenness, but was also a Mother Goddess. They associated her with the Milky Way as a divine reflection of the Nile River, and earlier as Sekhmet, a destroyer. The goddess Neith was originally a war goddess who became a Mother Goddess, a nurturing figure, to whom the gods would turn to settle their disputes. Many gods and goddesses transformed through time to take on other roles and responsibilities. These transformations were sometimes dramatic, as in the case of Set who went from a hero protector, to a villain and the world’s first murderer.
The Egyptians had no problem with a multitude of gods. They didn’t forget about older deities in favor of new ones. They blended together the characteristics and roles of various gods for different religious beliefs, customs, or ideals. For political and religious reasons, the god Amun, who was the most powerful deity in the New Kingdom, united with Ra, a sun god whose cult dated to the beginnings of Egypt. Worship of the gods of Egypt developed as large cults developed on a local and then on a national scale.
The Egyptians Creator God Amun
Amun was the creator god who they worshiped all throughout Egypt, but started as a deity worshiped only in Thebes. The city of Thebes grew from an unimportant village, in the old Kingdom, to a powerful metropolis in the Middle and New Kingdom. After the pharaohs moved their capital to Thebes, Amun became a major god. They considered him the creator of all life and the father to the Pharaohs. Amun’s name means “Hidden One, Mysterious of Form,” and is most often represented as a human wearing a double plumed crown. He sometimes depicted as a ram or a goose. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, he assimilated with Ra and grew in importance.
Ra is the ancient Egyptian sun god and father of the gods. They depict him with the body of a human and the head of a falcon crowned with a sun disc, encircled by a sacred cobra named Uraeus. Ra represents sunlight, warmth and growth. The ancient Egyptians believed he was the creator of the world, with parts of him being represented in every other god. Ra was a powerful deity and a central god of the Egyptian pantheon. The ancient Egyptians worshiped him more than any other god.
Descendants of Ra
Pharaohs often connected themselves with Ra to be the earthly embodiment of the Sun God. Pharaohs claimed to be descendants of Ra, and called themselves “The Son of Ra.” His cult was very powerful during the period of the Old Kingdom. Ra strongly influenced many other gods and took on his identity with their own. Amun became Amun-Ra and Horus became Ra-Horakhty. The Pharaoh Akenaten’s god, the Aten, was a form of Ra, the solar disk.
The belief was that Ra, in the sun’s form, traveled across the sky during the day in his boat, and at night he died and traveled through the underworld, leaving the moon in his place for light. At dawn the next day, Ra was reborn in the form of the sunrise.
Over time, the Egyptians combined Amun with Ra to form Amun-Ra. They referred to Amun-Ra as “one one” and “no second” because they considered him the supreme god. Amun-Ra was the king of the Upper Egyptian gods and one of the most important gods in Egypt, second only to Osiris. Egyptians gave Amun-Ra the role of the combined creative power behind the existence of all life on earth, in heaven and in the underworld. They considered him as being the god of the pharaohs and represented wind, fertility and secrets. In ancient Thebes, Amun was part of the Theban triad, along with Mut and Khonsu. Amuns wife was Amunet, a mother-goddess. Amun-Ra’s wife was Mut, and his son Khonsu, the moon god of regeneration and healing.