Billeder på siden

ciated in the sanctuary was frequently larger-an ennead, as at Heliopolis (An or On), or a 'circle of associated gods,' as that surrounding Thoth at Hermopolis (Khmunu); and there was sometimes a double or triple ennead.18 Each nome and city had its temple sacred to its official deity, and lesser divinities associated with the chief god were assigned shrines in the sanctuary relative to their importance, receiving appropriate shares in the worship and sacrifices. Each family, almost each individual, possessed a god or fetish who had a niche or shrine in the household and who was loved, respected, worshipped, consulted, and obeyed as the family or personal guide in the various contingencies of life." As nomes and cities increased in importance, their respective deities, developing independently of each other, advanced in prestige and formed relations, friendly or otherwise, with neighboring gods. Myths and tales were repeated, and the local divinities often became famed beyond their borders for certain functions and attributes.20 Local priests were quick to take advantage of any opportunity to enhance the position of their god, frequently accomplishing it by a blending with a more important deity." Thus at Heliopolis the nome-god Atum was united with the great sun-god Rē and became the more dignified Atum-Rē, rising in rank by reflected glory and appropriating his attributes and his powers. In such cases the local divinity did not lose his identity, but gained in prestige by the additional aspect of a composite character.22 Thus Horus was syncretized and presided over three nomes in Upper and two in Lower Egypt, while Hat-hôr had five seats in Upper and one in

18 Budge, op. cit., i, 85 ff.; also Müller, op. cit., p. 216.

19 Maspero, op. cit., i, 172 f.

20 Müller, op. cit., pp. 202, 204.

21 Budge, op. cit., i, 175.

22 Ib., i, 102.

Lower Egypt.23 Such syncretism became a common practice." Local deities assumed correlation with the great gods, used their attributes, and exercised their powers, with resulting conflicts of personality, indistinctness of character, fanciful variations, and a mystic confusion that is bewildering to the stranger, though it apparently enhanced the beauty of the mythological conception for the Egyptian imagination." Thereafter the great gods could best be identified by their original residences, as ‘Rē of Heliopolis' or 'Hat-hôr of Dendera.'

Cosmic and tribal gods.

[ocr errors]

Two phenomena appear to have been prominent in the development of the religious thought of ancient Egypt: first, the sun, "the most insistent fact in the Nile valley, or the solar system; and, second, the life-giving Nile." Very early the gods were conceived as being of two groups: those representing the cosmic forces of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, the atmosphere and earth, which are referred to as the solar group; and the tribal or official divinities of the nomes and cities. In the solar pantheon, the sun was viewed differently in various places, and had several names. At Edfu he appeared as a falcon, as a winged-disk (Hor or Horu), or as Ḥar-akhti, 'Horus of the Horizon,' and there were four Horuses in the Eastern Sky. The sun-disk with falcon's wings was one of the most common symbols of Egyptian religion. In many places the sun was a winged beetle, Khepri," rising in the eastern sky; the material sun of noon-day was Rē; and the evening sun, Atum, appeared at Heliopolis as an old

[blocks in formation]

man tottering to his grave in the west.28 Originally distinct, these sun-gods were correlated. Horus became the 'son of Re,' and they coalesced as Rē-Atum (Pyramid Texts, §§1694, 1695). The moon, Thoth, an eye of the sungod, was called the 'Horus-eye,' and this was the holiest symbol of Egypt.29 Horus was supposed to prepare the way for Rē; when he opened his eyelids, dawn appeared; when he closed them, the dusk of night fell. Rē, the Horuseye, traversed his kingdom across the sky by day in his 'Boat of Millions of Years,' returning to the east by another boat by a passage through Duat (the Underworld) or by way of the dark north.30 Ibis-headed Thoth was the moon-god; Qêb was the earth-god; and Nut, his consort, was the sky-goddess, supported by Shu, god of the atmosphere. Numberless deities were developed for minor functions.

The rise of Rē.

In the earliest temples the sun-god was the source of life and increase. The priests of Re at Heliopolis fostered the solar theology, and during the Fifth Dynasty (circa 2750 B.C.) it was established as the state religion, Re thus becoming the universal divinity of Egypt," though he was not the nome-god, but a deity of priests. Atum, the nomegod of Heliopolis, gained prestige by his assimilation with Rē; and it then became popular for other local deities to identify themselves with Rē, so that, in the end, Rē was combined with nearly every deity of Egypt, Ptaḥ being a notable exception.32 The process of assimilation continued until after 1600 B.C., when it ended with a radical

28 Müller, op. cit., p. 83.

29 Breasted, op. cit., p. 10; also Budge, op. cit., i, 352.


30 Budge, op. cit., i, 206 ff.; also Breasted, op. cit., p. 144; W. M. Flinders Petrie, "Egyptian Religion," in ERE v, 244.

31 Moore, op. cit., p. 153.

32 Budge, op. cit., i, 330, 333, 349.


tism in the pantheistic approach to monotheism set forth by Aten. The sun-god was believed to be an ally and protector of the kings of Egypt, who, about the Fifth Dynasty, assumed the title 'Son of Re," every Pharaoh thenceforth claiming to be a divine incarnation, a living representation of the sun-god," a bodily son of Re by his queen-mother, and often acting as the first priest in official ceremonies as an intercessor for the people.


No uniformity of belief.

The gods and the beliefs associated with them never had any general acceptance throughout the Nile valley; views differed in each district and in each age; and it has been said that there was no such thing as "the Egyptian religion," but that, rather, "during thousands of years there were ever-varying mixtures of theologies and eschatologies in the land," though the funerary side of the religion became better known than any other.""

Osiris and Isis.

According to the myths of the Pyramid Texts, Osiris of Mendes (Dêdu) in the Delta was the Nile-god, the fertilizer of the soil and the beneficent deity of vegetation;38 while his sister and consort, Isis of Buto (Per-uazit or Peruzoit), also in the Delta, represented the rich black soil of the Valley and was the divinity of love and fecundity. Osiris also symbolized the doctrine of the after-life, the future life in the grave, an early feature of Egyptian religious thought; and the tomb was the kingdom of

33 Müller, op. cit., pp. 28, 218, 224 ff.

34 Breasted, op. cit., p. 15; Budge, op. cit., i, 329.

35 Müller, op. cit., p. 170.

36 Note, an early example, if not the origin, of the idea of 'virgin birth.'

37 Petrie, in ERE v, 236.
38 Breasted, op. cit., p. 143.

Osiris. Between the sun-god Re and Osiris, as the deity of the Underworld, there existed from the beginning a serious rivalry for the highest place in religion; and this continued throughout the many centuries of Egypt's history until after the Christian era.

The Osirian myth.

According to the myth, which has many variations, Osiris had incurred the enmity of his brother, Sêth," who murdered him and threw his body into the Nile, where it was found by Isis and, by the aid of Thoth, was temporarily restored to life. His posthumous son, the child Horus, seeking justice for his father, introduced him into the Great Hall at Heliopolis for justification from the charges brought by Sêth before the tribunal of the gods; and at the trial the accuser was defeated by Horus, with the moon-god Thoth as the ally and advocate of Osiris, or as "Judge of the Rivals who reconciled the gods," while Osiris was vindicated ('justified') by the gods and was made Lord of the Underworld and Judge of the Dead, superseding Anubis (Anupu), the old Lord of the Sepulchre. According to another form of the myth, the body of Osiris, dismembered and scattered by Sêth, was diligently sought and gathered up by the faithful Isis, put together by Thoth, embalmed by Anubis, and placed in the tomb at Abydos (Abotu), of which he became lord, whence that necropolis was, thereafter, the center of his cult, this concept of him overshadowing his aspect as the Nile-god."1 In his person Osiris had suffered indignity and death at the hands of his enemies, had risen from the dead, and had made his moral justification before his judges, being

39 Müller, op. cit., pp. 72-73.

40 Müller, ib., pp. 117-118; also Boylan, Thoth, the Hermes of Egypt,

p. 42.

41 Ha'pi, represented as a fat man, was also a Nile-god.

« ForrigeFortsæt »