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25 Facts About Ancient Egyptian Gods That You Probably Didn’t Know

Ancient Egyptians were some of the most religious people to inhabit the Earth. Because their knowledge was only a sliver of what we know today, they feared many things and had a strong belief in the supernatural. From this belief sprang a host of Ancient Egyptian gods. If there was a situation or a place which could have its own god, more likely than not there was one. While most of the deities were local presences, some such as Ra, Osiris, and Thoth were elevated to a national stage.

In this list, we’ve dug up – well, not literally; we’ll leave that for the archaeologists and grave robbers – these fascinating facts about the Ancient Egyptian gods and religious systems. Religion in Ancient Egypt wasn’t so different from religion today with its focus on doing good and earning a place in the afterlife. Though it may seem complex and extensive, the religion was rather flexible, evolving based on the personal practices of the ruling Pharaoh. Egyptian gods often had both human and animistic traits, making them quite memorable and recognizable. Find out some of the amazing things we know about the Ancient Egyptians in this list of 25 Facts About Ancient Egyptian Gods That You Probably Didn’t Know.



Cover Image CC via Insights Unspoken via Flickr

25

Like many young religious traditions, religion in pre-dynastic Egypt was mostly animistic, making various animals, plants, or things the homes of spirits.


animistic horned ram statues at entrance to temple of amun

Source: Ancient Egypt Online, Image: Wikipedia

24

Many of today's well-known Egyptian gods harken back to the animistic times. Take Anubis, the god of funerals and death. He is depicted with the head of a jackal since the animals often were seen at the desert's edge where Egyptians buried their dead.


anubis

Source: Ancient Egypt Online, Image: Wikipedia

23

Good news for Gator fans: the Ancient Egyptians had a gator god! (Well, technically he had a Nile crocodile head.) Sobek was one of the most powerful and longest lasting gods. As guardian of waterways, Sobek enjoyed eating flesh, like most crocodiles. To show reverence, many Ancient Egyptian temples kept live crocs in pools.


sobek egyptian god

Source: National Geographic, Image: Wikipedia

22

Though the Ancient Egyptians had over 2,000 gods, most were only known locally in small parts of the empire.


goddess Nut with wings

Source: National Geographic, Image: Wikipedia

21

Just like we have multiple branches of Christianity today - Catholicism, Methodism, Eastern Orthodox, etc. - Ancient Egyptians also had multiple schools of religious thought, each claiming it was superior to the others.


different egyptian time periods

Source: Ancient Egypt Online, Image: Nancy Ross via YouTube

20

The sun god Ra has one of the most interesting stories among all the Ancient Egyptian gods. Every night, it is said this god was eaten by Nut, the sky goddess, only to be reborn the following sunrise.


sun god - Ra

Source: National Geographic, Image: Wikipedia

19

The worship of Egyptian gods was one of the most durable religions in the world, lasting over 3,000 years. In contrast, Buddhism has been around for only 2,500; Christianity for 2,000; and Mormonism for 200 years.


opening of the mouth ceremony

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikipedia

18

Whenever a new pharaoh took power, he would often promote the local god from his school of thought to be the primary national god. For example, when power shifted to Thebes during the Middle Kingdom years (2000 BC to 1700 BC), Amun became the national god after fusing with Ra to become Amun-Ra.


Ra_and_Amon_-_Ramses_IV_tomb

Source: Ancient Egypt Online, Image: Wikipedia

17

Beyond originating from Ancient Egyptians' animistic beliefs, the incorporation of animal features in gods had another important use: showing the deity's mood. If a god was enraged, its head may have been depicted as a fearsome lion; if calm and gentle, it may have had a cat's head instead.


British_Museum_Egypt-black cat

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

16

The gods were most often portrayed with a human body and animal head. Images of an animal body and human head were often used to represent kings.


Great_Sphinx_of_Giza

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

15

Egyptian gods were often seen holding the mysterious Ankh symbol. Symbolizing eternal life, the cross with a handle was known as the key of life and reinforced the permanence and eternity of their rules.


ankh

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikipedia

14

Though it may seem difficult to determine if a god is male or female in many of the ancient paintings, here's a trick: male gods had dark reddish-brown skin, while goddesses had yellow skin to signify their indoor lifestyles.


Shu and Sekhmet

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikipedia

13

The god Bes was one of the busiest gods in Ancient Egypt, acting as the god of babies and mothers, households, nightmares, and even scorpion bites.


bes tablet

Source: National Geographic, Image: Wikimedia

12

Ancient Egypt was polytheistic for most of its existence, barring a short period during the Eighteenth Dynasty when Pharaoh Akhenaten forced the country to become monotheistic. This one-god devotion was centered around Aten: the disk of the sun, attributed to Ra.


Akhenaten_as_a_Sphinx_(Kestner_Museum)

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikipedia

11

Beyond the gods, demons played a strong role in Ancient Egyptians' belief systems. Though more powerful than humans, they were less powerful than gods but were generally immortal and could be in multiple places at once.


weighing of the heart with the demon Ammit

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

10

One of the best-known symbols of Ancient Egypt, the scarab beetle represented resurrection and protection. Locals often wore scarab amulets for safety, a reference to the scarab-headed god of rebirth: Khepri.


Giacinto_Melillo_-_Egyptian-Style_Necklace_with_Scarabs

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikimedia

9

The Ancient Greeks drew many parallels between their gods and the Ancient Egyptians'. While Alexander the Great was moving through the region, he stopped in to consult the Oracle of Amun: the god Greeks felt represented Zeus. Alexander was so well-known throughout Ancient Egypt that the Oracle of the Siwa Oasis even called him the son of Amun.


Alexander_the_Great_Founding_Alexandria

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

8

A mismatch made in heaven: Shu (center), the god of dry air and sunlight, was married to Tefnut, the god of moisture who controlled the rain.


Geb, Nut, Shu

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

7

The pharaoh was the intermediary between the gods and Ancient Egyptians. His role was to carefully preserve the delicate balance by keeping good relations with the gods. Locals believed that, upon his death, a pharaoh would become a god if his heart weighed less than a feather.


Statue of Horemheb

Source: National Geographic, Image: Wikipedia

6

The goddess Bastet had a woman's body and a cat's head. Followers of her cult revered cats so much they mummified the felines when they died. Nearby her primary temple in the town of Bubastis, archaeologists have even discovered an enormous mummified cat cemetery.


goddess bastet

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

5

Religious life in Ancient Egypt was largely elitist. Only priests, priestesses, and the Pharaoh and some members of his family were allowed inside temples. Normal Egyptians had to stop at the temples' gates.


Edfu Temple

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikimedia

4

Despite his importance, the god Geb (bottom middle) never achieved a cult following like others such as Osiris and Amun. As the god of the Earth, it was believed his laughter caused earthquakes.


Geb and Nut

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikimedia

3

The Ancient Egyptians erected countless statues of their gods, washing them with lotus-scented water and oiling them before dressing the statue with jewelry, clothes, and make-up.


Statue of Anubis

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikimedia

2

One of the most hated gods of the Ancient Egyptians, Set (on the left) was the god of chaos, confusion, and war. He has a human body but an animal head which Egyptologists have been unable to identify with any known animal. Set was specifically hated for murdering his brother Osiris and taking over the throne.


Seth and Horus Adoring Ramsses

Source: Discovering Egypt, Image: Wikipedia

1

One of the most distinctive signs of the Ancient Egyptians, the Eye of Horus was often worn as a protective amulet. It represents healing and restoration and was believed to protect its wearer with good magic. Various symbols have been based on the Eye of Horus, including the all-seeing eye in the United States' Great Seal on the dollar bill and the Rx symbol in pharmacy.


eye of Horus tile

Source: Land of Pyramids, Image: Wikimedia
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