The major deities of Egypt are provided with individual entries because of the complex roles, cultic ramifications, and titular designations associated with their worship. The major deities of Egypt are:
AA a companion of the heart of the god Re. a’ah a moon deity associated with Osiris. a’a nefer the sacred bull of Hermonthis, associated with Montu.
AION a Greek-introduced personification of time.
AKER a lion deity associated with mortuary rituals. AMAUNET the consort of the god Amun in the Ogdoad. AMEMAIT a mortuary creature that devoured the unworthy dead.
AMI-UT a canine god of death, associated with Osiris.
AMUN the Theban deity who assumed national dominance, associated with Re.
ANATH a Canaanite goddess of love and war.
ANDJETI a shepherd deity associated with Osiris.
ANHUR a solar deity of the Nile Valley.
ANI a moon deity, a form of Khons.
ANIT the consort of the god Ani.
ANTI an ancient war god of Egypt.
ANUBIS a deity of the dead, associated with Osiris.
ANUKIS the goddess of the first cataract of the Nile. APEDEMAK a Nubian lion deity worshiped in Egypt.
APIS the sacred bull of the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris cult.
APOPHIS (1) the serpent enemy of the god Re.
ARSENUPHIS the “Good Companion” from Nubia.
ASTARTE a Syrian war goddess adopted in the New Kingdom era in Egypt.
ASTEN a patron of wisdom and a companion of the god Thoth.
ATEN a solar deity, the solar disk.
ATUM a deity of creation.
BA a deity of the eternal paradise. ba’eb djet the sacred ram of Mendes.
Bain-a’abtiu the deities of souls transformed into baboons at dawn.
BAIT the consort of Ba.
BASTET the feline patroness of the arts and pregnant women.
BATA (1) an ancient bull deity.
BES the dwarf patron of women, childbirth, and war.
BESET the consort of Bes.
BUCHIS the sacred bull representing the deity Montu.
DEDUN the patron of Nubia, adopted by Egypt.
DOUAO the patron of diseases of the eye.
DUAMUTEF a son of Horus, patron of canopic jars.
ERNUTET a patroness of the Faiyum area.
ESYE a deity of wisdom, associated with the god Thoth. FORTY-TWO JUDGES the patrons of the Judgment Halls of Osiris.
GEB an earth deity, husband of Nut.
HA a fertility deity, patron of deserts.
HAPI (1) the Nile god.
HAPI (2) a son of Horus, patron of the canopic jars. HARSAPHES the creator ram deity.
HARSOMTUS a divine being from the union of Hathor and Horus.
HATHOR a solar goddess, patroness of the sky and a popular deity.
HAT-MEHIT the patroness of Mendes.
HEH the god of eternity, consort of Hauket.
HEKET the frog-headed goddess, consort of Hek.
HEMETCH the serpent demon of the Tuat, or Underworld. HENEB an ancient deity of argiculture.
HEPTET a protectoress associated with Osiris.
HETEPHAKEF an ancient deity of Memphis.
HORUS a major solar deity, assuming many roles.
HRAF-HEF the divine ferryman of the dead.
HU a Heliopolis god of taste.
HUDET a divine, winged form of the god Re.
IMSETY a son of Horus, guardian of the canopic jars.
INUET a consort of the god Montu.
ISIS the mother of the gods, consort of Osiris, mother of Horus.
IUSAS a consort of the god Tem.
KAMUTEF a creator deity associated with Amun.
KEBAWET an ancient goddess of eternal paradises. KHAFTET-HIR-NEBES a protector goddess of Thebes.
KHATRU the mongoose deity (ichneumon).
KHENTIAMENTIU an early funerary deity, obscured by Osiris.
KHEPER a solar deity, the form of the sun at dawn.
KHNUM a creator deity called the “Molder,” patron of Elephantine island.
Renditions of the god Sobek and other deities attending the pharaoh shown in the center, as carved onto a temple wall. (Courtesy Steve Beikirch.)
KHONS the moon deity of the Theban triad, patron of childbirth.
Ma’ahes a lion god, probably originating in Nubia. ma’at the goddess of cosmic awareness and order, associated with Osiris.
MAFDET a feline goddess associated with solar cults. MANDULIS a Nubian deity honored in Egypt.
MATIT a lion goddess associated with the god Re.
MAU a symbol of Bast, associated with the Persea Tree. MAU-TAUI a mortuary deity who aided Osiris.
MEHEN the serpent associated with the divine bark of Re. MEHURT a celestial cow deity associated with the waters of heaven.
MENYU a warrior bull god called the Lord of the Desert. MERESGER a cobra goddess of the necropolis of Thebes, the Lover of Silence.
MERIT the goddess of the inundation of the Nile.
MESKHENT the goddess of childbirth, associated with Hathor.
MIN a fertility deity, patron of desert travels and crop harvests.
MNEVIS a bull god of Heliopolis.
MONTU a war deity, represented by the Buchis bull.
MUT the patroness of the pharaohs.
NEBERTCHER a divine personification of the god Re. nebetu’u a form of Hathor, worshiped in Esna.
NEFER-HOR a form of the god Ptah at Memphis.
NEHAH-RE a serpent associated with the solar cults. NEHEM-AWIT a divine form of Hathor.
NEHES a divine form of Re.
NEITH a patroness of the Delta and a war goddess. NEKHEBET a vulture goddess, patroness of Upper Egypt. NEPER a grain god associated with harvests.
NEPHTHYS the patroness of the dead, consort of Set and mother of Anubis.
NESER a fish deity.
NUN the deity of chaos and the primordial age.
NUT the goddess of the heavens and consort of Geb.
OSIRIS the beloved patron of Egypt and judge of the dead. PAKHET a lioness deity, patroness of the living and the dead.
PAR a form of the god Amun, an agricultural deity. PNEB-TAWY a deity of Kom Ombo, called the Lord of the Two Lands.
PTAH the cosmogonic creator deity of all eras.
QEBEHSENNUF a divine son of the god Horus, and guardian of the canopic jars.
QEBHET the personification of cool water, associated with paradise.
QEBHUI the god of the north wind.
RE major solar deity of Egypt.
RENENET a goddess of good fortune.
RENPET a goddess of the calendrical year.
REPYT a lioness goddess of Egypt.
RET an ancient solar goddess of Heliopolis.
SATET the patroness of the Nile and a goddess of Elephantine Island.
A procession of divine beings welcoming a royal deceased (the central figure) into paradise, on a temple wall at Abydos. (Courtesy Steve Beikirch.)
SEFER-T a winged lion associated with the Pyramid Texts. SEKHMET a lioness goddess of war and consort of Ptah. SELKET a scorpion goddess associated with Isis.
SEPT a deity of the twentieth nome and associated with Horus.
SHAI a goddess of fate.
SHESHAT a patroness of learning and records.
SHESMETET a lioness goddess, a form of Bastet.
SHU a deity of the air, associated with Atum.
SOBEK a crocodile deity of the Faiyum area.
SOKAR a deity of the Memphite necropolis. SOKNOKNONNEUS a Greek deity introduced in the Ptolemaic Period.
SUTEKH a canine god associated with Set.
TAIT a goddess of linen, associated with Akhmin. TASENETNOFRET a goddess of Kom Ombo, called the Good Sister.
TATENEN an earth god, called the Risen Land.
TAWARET the hippopotamus goddess, patroness of childbirth.
TCHESERTEP a serpent demon who threatens the dead. TEFNUT the consort of Shu, a goddess representing rain, dew, and moisture.
TEM a solar deity of the setting sun.
THOTH the ancient god of learning and wisdom.
TJET the god of Busiris and Mendes, associated with Osiris.
TYPHONEAN ANIMAL a form of the god Set.
UNU the hare deity of Egypt.
WA a companion of the Divine Heart of Re.
WADJET the cobra patroness of Lower Egypt, associated with Isis.
WENUT the rabbit goddess of Thebes.
WEPWAWET the wolf god, associated with Anubis.
WERET the deity of the sky, associated with Thoth and Horus.
Peoples in the region. Through animism, the belief that all objects on earth have consciousness and a personality, the earliest Egyptians sought to explain natural forces and the role human beings played in the patterns of existence. Animism defined “spirits” in creatures and in nature and included awareness of the power of the dead. Animists felt compelled to placate such spirits and to cooperate with immaterial entities that they believed populated the world.
The concerns for such “spirits” in the realm of the dead led to elaborate funerary rituals and a sophisticated belief system concerning existence beyond the grave. Animism also concerned the “spirits” of all natural things as well. The Egyptians lived with forces that they did not understand. Storms, earthquakes, floods, and dry periods all seemed inexplicable, yet the people realized acutely that natural forces had an impact on human affairs. The “spirits” of nature were thus deemed powerful, in view of the damage they could inflict on humans. It was also believed that the “spirits” of nature could inhabit human bodies.
Two other forms of worship coexisted with animism: fetishism and totemism. Fetishism recognized a spirit in an object (as in animism) but treated the object as if it had a conscious awareness of life around it and could bring to bear certain magical influences. Fetishes had two significant aspects: first as the object in which a “spirit” was present and, second, as an object used by a “spirit” for a specific purpose (such as amulets or talismans). Totems evolved out of nome emblems, a particular animal portrait or sign that signified the province’s spirit. Such totems appeared on the nome staffs used in battle, and each nome unit marched behind its own leader and its own insignias in the early historical periods.
Several ancient gods and goddesses of Egypt were associated with these totems. neith, hathor, montu, and MIN, for example, were early examples of fertility, hunting, pleasure, and war. Fetishes appeared early in amulet form as well. The DJED Pillar, which was associated with the god OSIRIS, became the nation’s symbol for stability The girdle of isis represented the virtues of that goddess as a wife and divine mother. As the predynastic period drew to a close, certain fetishes and totems were given human traits and characteristics, a process called anthropomorphism. The Egyptian gods evolved during this era, particularly osiris, who represented not only the death of the earth at the end of the growing season but the regeneration of plant life as well. At that time, animals became objects of cultic devotion because of their particular abilities, natures, or roles on earth. Some were made divine because of the dangers they posed to humans, in an effort to constitute what is called sympathetic magic. In time, others were used as theo-PHANIES, manifestations of the gods, because of their familiar traits or characteristics.
Although the Egyptians were polytheists, they displayed a remarkable henotheism: the act of worshiping one god while not denying the existence of others. This is particularly evident in the hymns, didactic literature, and tales of Egyptians, where the devoted addressed one god as the self-created supreme being. The Egyptians had no problem with a multitude of gods, and they seldom shelved old deities in favor of new ones. The characteristics and roles of older deities were syncretized to reconcile changes or differences in beliefs, customs, and ideals of particular eras. It has been argued by some scholars, in fact, that the Egyptians were actual monotheists who viewed all other deities as avatars, or representations of one, self-begotten, created god. Whatever intent prompted the pantheon of gods in Egypt, some of these supernatural beings interjected remarkable concepts into the human experience. The cult of ptah, for example, based traditions upon the use of the logos, and the deity AMUN, the unseen creator of life, represented profound recognition of the spiritual aspirations of humans.
Over the centuries alien deities were brought to Egypt and more or less welcomed. Most of these gods were introduced by conquering alien forces, which limited their appeal to the Nile population. Some came as representatives of other cultures that were eager to share their spiritual visions. only a few of these deities attained universal appeal on their own merits. The Egyptians normally attached the deity to an existing one of long
The opening to the temple of Isis at Philae and dating to the Ptolemaic Period (304-30 B. C.E.), displaying the favored goddess, Isis. (Courtesy Steve Beikirch.)
Standing. The apis bull, for example, became serapis in the Ptolemaic Period (304-30 b. c.e.) and sokar became part of the ptah-Osiris cult. The major foreign gods introduced into Egypt are included in the preceding list of major deities of the nation.
Animal deities were also part of the cultic panorama of Egypt, serving as divine entities or as manifestations of a more popular god or goddess. The animals and birds so designated, and other creatures, are as follows:
Creatures were believed by the Egyptians to represent certain aspects, characteristics, roles, or strengths of the various gods. sacred bulls were manifestations of power in Egypt in every era. The gods were called “bulls” of their reign, and even the king called himself the “bull” of his mother in proclaiming his rank and claims to the throne. The bull image was used widely in predynastic times and can be seen on maces and palettes from that period. The bulls a’a nefer, apis, buchis, and mnevis were worshiped in shrines on the Nile.
Rams were also considered a symbol of power and fertility. The ram of mendes was an ancient divine being, and AMUN of thebes was depicted as a ram in his temples in the New Kingdom. in some instances they were also theophanies of other deities, such as khnum.
The lion was viewed as a theophany, as was the cat, and the deities SHU, bastet, sekhmet, and the sphinx were represented by one of these forms. The hare was a divine creature called Weni, or Wen-nefer. The hare was an insignia of re’s rising as the sun and also of the resur-rective powers of OSIRIS. The jackal was anubis, the prowler of the graves who became the patron of the dead. As WEPWAWET, the jackal was associated with the mortuary rituals at assiut (or Lykonpolis) and in some regions identified with Anubis. Wepwawet was sometimes depicted as a wolf as well.
The pig, Shai, was considered a form of the god set and appeared in some versions of the book of the dead, where it was slain by the deceased. The ass or the donkey, A’a, was also vilified in the mortuary texts. The mongoose or ICHNEUMON, was called Khatru and was considered a theophany of re as the setting sun. The mouse, Penu, was considered an incarnation of horus.
The leopard had no cultic shrines or rites, but its skin was used by priests of certain rank. The baboon, Yan, was a theophany of thoth, who greeted Re each dawn, howling at the morning sun in the deserts. The elephant, Abu, was certainly known in Egypt but is not often shown in Egyptian art or inscriptions. ivory was prized and came from nubia. The hippopotamus, a manifestation of the god Set, was vilified. As tawaret, however, she also had characteristics of a crocodile and a lion. The bat was a sign of fertility, but no cultic evidence remains to signify that it was honored. The oryx, Maliedj, was considered a theophany of the god set.
A pantheon of divine beings in Egypt, as displayed in the White Chapel at Karnak, including Amun and Min. (Courtesy Thierry Ailleret.)
The BENNU bird, a type of heron, was considered an incarnation of the sun and was believed to dwell in the sacred PERSEA TREE in HELIOPOLIS, called the soul of the gods. The PHOENIX, similar to the Bennu, was a symbol of resurrection and was honored in shrines of the Delta. The falcon (or hawk) was associated with Horus, who had important cultic shrines at edfu and at hierakonpolis. The vulture was nekhebet, the guardian of Upper Egypt. The goose was sacred to the gods geb and amun and called Khenken-ur. The ibis was sacred to the god Thoth at many shrines. The ostrich was considered sacred and its unbroken eggs were preserved in temples. The owl was a hieroglyphic character.
See also bird symbols.
The turtle, shetiu, was considered a manifestation of the harmful deities and was represented throughout Egyptian history as the enemy of the god Re. The crocodile was sacred to the god sobek, worshiped in temples in the FAIYUM and at kom ombo in Upper Egypt. The cobra, WADJET, was considered an emblem of royalty and throne power. The cobra was also the guardian of Lower Egypt, with a special shrine at buto.
Snakes were symbols of new life and resurrection because they shed their skins. One giant snake, methen, guarded the sacred boat of Re each night, as the god journeyed endlessly through the Underworld. apophis, another magical serpent, attacked Re each night. Frogs were symbols of fertility and resurrection and were members of the ogdoad at Heliopolis. The scorpion was considered a helper of the goddess isis and was deified as SELKET.
The OXYRRHYNCHUS (2) was reviled because it ate the phallus of the god Osiris after his brother, Set, dismembered his body
The BEE was a symbol of Lower Egypt. The royal titulary “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” included the hieroglyph for the bee. The scarab beetle in its form of Khep-hri, was considered a theophany of the god Re. The image of a beetle pushing a ball of dung reminded the Egyptians of the rising sun, thus the hieroglyph of a beetle came to mean “to come into being.” The scarab beetle was one of the most popular artistic images used in Egypt.
The tamarisk, called the asher, was the home of sacred creatures, and the coffin of the god Osiris was supposedly made of its wood. The persea, at the site called Shub, was a sacred mythological tree where Re rose each morning at HELIOPOLIS and the tree upon which the king’s name was written at his coronation. The persea was guarded by the cat goddess, and in some legends was the home of the Bennu bird. The ished was a sacred tree of life upon which the names and deeds of the kings were written by the god Thoth and the goddess seshat.
The SYCAMORE, nehet, was the abode of the goddess Hathor and was mentioned in the love songs of the New Kingdom. According to legends, the lotus, seshen, was the site of the first creation when the god Re rose from its heart. The god nefertem was associated with the lotus as well. The flower of the lotus became the symbol of beginnings. Another tree was the tree of heaven, a mystic symbol.
The saget was a mythical creature of uncertain composition, with the front part of a lion and a hawk’s head. Its tail ended in a lotus flower. A painting of the creature was found in beni hasan, dating to the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B. C.E.).
AMEMAIT, the animal that waited to pounce upon condemned humans in the judgment halls of osiris, had the head of a crocodile, the front paws of a lion, and the rear end of a hippopotamus. Other legendary animals were displayed in Egyptian tombs, representing the peculiar nightmares of local regions. One such animal gained national prominence. This was the typhonean animal associated with the god Set, depicted throughout all periods of Egypt.
Suggested Readings: Armour, Robert A. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: American University of Cairo, 2001; Frankfurter, David. Religion in Roman Egypt. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2000; Gah-
The saget, a mythical creature found on a tomb wall in Beni Hasan and dating to the Twelfth Dynasty.
Lin, Lucia. Egypt: Gods, Myths and Religion. New York: Lorenz, 2001; Hornung, Erik, and John Baines, transl. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996; Kong, S. The Books of Thoth: The Adventure that Unveiled the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt. Victoria, B. C., Canada: Evergreen Press Pty Ltd., 1998; Lesko, B. The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999; Meeks, Dimitri. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996; Quirke, Stephen. The Cult of Ra: Sun-Worship in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001; Sauneron, Serge, and David Lorton, trans. The Priests of Ancient Egypt. New edition. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000; Vernus, Pascal. The Gods of Ancient Egypt. New York: George Braziller, 1998.
God’s Wife of Amun A mysterious and powerful form of temple service that started in the first years of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1550-1307 b. c.e.) and lasted until later eras. Queen ’ahmose-nefertari, the consort of ’ahmose (r. 1550-1525 b. c.e.), started the office of God’s Wife when she served as a priestess in the cult of amun. The office had its predecessor in the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B. C.E.) when queens conducted some temple rites.
HATSHEPSUT (r. 1473-1458 b. c.e.) not only assumed this role while a queen but as pharaoh groomed her daughter, neferu-re, to perform the same powerful office. During the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the God’s Wife was one of the chief servants of Amun at THEBES. A relief at karnak depicts such a woman as destroying the enemies of “the God’s Father,” a male religious leader. The God’s Wife also held the title of “Chief-tainess of the harem,” designating her as the superior of the vast number of women serving the temple as adoratri-ces, chantresses, singers, dancers, and ritual priestesses. In Karnak the God’s Wife was called “the God’s Mother” or “the Prophetess.”
Following the fall of the New Kingdom (1070 B. C.E.), the role of God’s Wife of Amun took on new political imperatives, especially in Thebes. Sharing power with the self-styled “pharaohs” in the north, the Theban high priests of Amun needed additional accreditation in order to control their realms. The women were thus elevated to prominence and given unlimited power in the name of cultic traditions.
The daughters of the high priests of Amun, such as the offspring of pinudjem (2), were highly educated and provided with pomp, wealth, and titles. In the Twenty-first Dynasty (1070-945 b. c.e.) the God’s Wife of Amun ruled all the religious females in Egypt. amenirdis, NITOCRIS, SHEPENWEPET, and others held great estates, had their names enshrined in royal cartouches, lived as celebrities, and adopted their successors. By the era of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (712-657 b. c.e.) such women were symbolically married to the god in elaborate ceremonies. All were deified after death. The role of God’s Wife of Amun did not fare well in the face of foreign invasions and subsequently lost power and faded from the scene. Before that, however, the office was a political weapon, and some God’s Wives were removed from office, supplanted by new women who were members of an emerging dynastic line. The best known God’s Wives, or Divine Adoratrices of Amun, were Amenirdis I and II, Nitocris, Shepenwepet I and II, and ankhesneferibre. Many were buried at medinet habu, and some were given royal honors in death as well as deification.