The ancient Egyptians worshipped over 2,000 gods and goddesses, with each god playing an essential role in everyday life. It is known as a polytheistic religion. Some of the most crucial Egyptian gods include:
- Ra – God of the Sun
- Anubis – God of the Dead
- Osiris – God of the Underworld
- Horus – God of the Sky
- Isis – Goddess of Good Fortune and Protector of the Dead
- Nut and Geb – God and Goddess of the Sky and Earth
- Amun – God of the Air
- Set – God of the Desert and Chaos
- Thoth – God of Knowledge
- Sekhmet – Goddess of War
- Ptah – God of Craftsmen
- Hathor – Goddess of the Sky and Fertility
Osiris was regarded to be one of the most essential ancient gods. Osiris ruled the underworld and was a judge of the dead upon their arriving there. In life, Osiris was murdered by his brother, Seth. From this point onwards, Seth was seen as a criminal and was no longer respected by Egyptian society. Osiris was married to Isis (they were also brother and sister- they did things differently back in ancient times), and together they had a son called Horus, who would later avenge his father’s death. Osiris was often depicted as having green skin, as this symbolized rebirth. He was also shown in tight white clothing, which is thought to be linked to the mummification process that the Egyptians originated. Although he was known as a human god, sometimes gods were known to have heads or bodies of animals.
Isis was Osiris’s wife and was essential to ancient Egyptian culture. Lots of temples were built to honor Isis. She represented protection, healing, motherhood, children, and nature as a goddess. Pharaohs believed that she was their protector and she acted as a mother figure. It was thought that Isis had the power to heal, and legend says that she recovered her son Horus from a scorpion sting. It is also said that she is the one who brought Osiris back to life through her love for him. Isis was often drawn onto coffins to protect the dead from evil spirits.
As well as being the son of Osiris and Isis, Horus was the god of the sky. Horus was well respected throughout ancient Egyptian society as he fought his uncle Seth to avenge his father’s death and ultimately become the king of Egypt. Horus lost his eye in this battle, and this is where the term ‘eye of Horus’ comes from. The eye of Horus became one of the most important symbols in Ancient Egypt. The eye of Horus was a powerful amulet (a piece of jewelry) that could fight off evil, disease, and danger. The symbol of the eye of Horus was often painted on boats to protect them from shipwrecks and storms. It was believed that Horus was very handsome and generally depicted as having a falcon head. Horus was well respected throughout ancient Egypt, and the ruling Pharoah was always considered to be the living image of Horus. Upon death, the Pharoah would become Osiris.
Seth’s cult was considered the oldest in Egypt, and some Pharaohs were known to honor him. He was at one time thought to be a valuable god, and Egyptians prayed to him so he could help their dead family members. However, after he murdered his brother Osiris, the public opinion of Seth changed. He was viewed as the direct opposite of Horus, who was well respected and loved in society. Seth was seen as the god of darkness, war, and chaos- he ultimately became an enemy. He was often associated with the color red, which the ancient Egyptians hated; they believed red represented destruction.
Amun was the god of the air, sun, and sky and was eventually thought of as the national god of Egypt. Amun was depicted in several ways but most commonly wore a double-plumed crown. He was initially shown to have red or brown skin, but with a religious revolution, Amun was then depicted as having blue skin to represent air. During the period known as the New Kingdom (1570-1070 bc), Amun became the national god of Egypt. Pharaoh Akhenaten established the sun god Aten as the only god of Egypt during his rule, but this ultimately ended with his death.
Anubis was thought to have invented the process of embalming. Mummification was a massive part of Egyptian culture and would take weeks to complete. Those who would complete the embalming process dressed up like Anubis. Prayers to Anubis are found in most Egyptian tombs. Anubis translates from greek to mean ‘man with a jackal head. It was thought that if you didn’t live a good and honest life, Anubis would send you to be eaten.
The sun god, Ra, was a human with a falcon head crowned with a sun disk that Uraeus, the sacred Cobra, encircled. The holy cobra was an emblem of royalty and authority. Ra was also considered an underworld god and was closely associated with Osiris. His central cult and following were at Heliopolis, also known as the ‘sun city,’ which would have been located near modern-day Cairo. Ra was often depicted holding an ankh, a symbol of eternal life.
One of the most famous animal-headed gods was Thoth, the god of knowledge and hieroglyphs, and he was thought to have invented them. Thoth had no parents and no children. Other Egyptian gods would seek advice from Thoth before going into battle. Thoth had many jobs, like maintaining the universe and settling arguments between other gods. It was thought that Thoth would judge those who would die. He is known as a human ibis (sacred bird), and it was felt that he created the heavens and earth.
Also known as the ‘excellent lady,’ ‘holy one,’ and ‘powerful one,’ Sekhmet was among the oldest and most well-respected Egyptian goddesses. Sekhmet had the body of a woman and the face of a lion. She was widely known for her violence and her power. Sekhmet was often associated with the desert and fire, as her personality was hot-tempered and violent.
Ptah built the structure of the universe and was the mastermind architect. Ancient Egyptians believed that Ptah created the excellent metal plate that was the floor of heaven and the top of the sky. Ptah even made the other gods by imagining them in his heart and then using his voice to breathe life into them- without Ptah, there would be no gods! He is considered one of the most unique-looking gods; he was a bald man who wore a beard and tight-fitting clothing that made him look like a mummy.
The goddess of love, fertility, beauty, music, and laughter, Hathor was one of the oldest Egyptian gods and had the appearance of a cow and a woman. She had many different personalities and was very popular but could also be vicious. It was thought that she was the wife of Horus. Hathor would care for souls once they reached the underworld by feeding them. Many Egyptian children were named after Hathor. While she was very caring, she was also known to terrorize and cause distress to those she thought deserved it.
The goddess of mourning, Nephthys, was a friend and a protector of the dead. She was also the goddess of night, rivers, sleep, and nature! It was thought that Nephthys would stand at the end of coffins and take you to the underworld. It was also believed that she would comfort women during childbirth. Nephthys were generally worshipped and respected throughout ancient Egypt. Nephthys was also a very loyal sister to Isis.