Envy of Seth – 1





Before dealing with the special varieties of the Egyptians’ belief in gods, it is best to try to avoid a misunderstanding of their whole conception of the supernatural. The term god has come to tacitly imply to our minds such a highly specialised group of attributes, that we can hardly throw our ideas back into the more remote conceptions to which we also attach the same name. It is unfortunate that every other word for supernatural intelligences has become debased, so that we cannot well speak of demons, devils, ghosts, or fairies without implying a noxious or a trifling meaning, quite unsuited to the ancient deities that were so beneficent and powerful. If then we use the word god for such conceptions, it must always be with the reservation that the word has now a very different meaning from what it had to ancient minds.

To the Egyptian the gods might be mortal; even Ra, the sun-god, is said to have grown old and feeble, Osiris was slain, and Orion, the great hunter of the heavens, killed and ate the gods. The mortality of gods has been dwelt on by Dr. Frazer (_Golden Bough_), and the many instances of tombs of gods, and of the slaying of the deified man who was worshipped, all show that immortality was not a divine attribute. Nor was there any doubt that they might suffer while alive; one myth tells how Ra, as he walked on earth, was bitten by a magic serpent and suffered torments. The gods were also supposed to share in a life like that of man, not only in Egypt but in most ancient lands. Offerings of food and drink were constantly supplied to them, in Egypt laid upon the altars, in other lands burnt for a sweet savour.

At Thebes the divine wife of the god, or high priestess, was the head of the harem of concubines of the god; and similarly in Babylonia the chamber of the god with the golden couch could only be visited by the priestess who slept there for oracular responses.

The Egyptian gods could not be cognisant of what passed on earth without being informed, nor could they reveal their will at a distant place except by sending a messenger; they were as limited as the Greek gods who required the aid of Iris to communicate one with another or with mankind. The gods, therefore, have no divine superiority to man in conditions or limitations; they can only be described as pre-existent, acting intelligences, with scarcely greater powers than man might hope to gain by magic or witchcraft of his own. This conception explains how easily the divine merged into the human in Greek theology, and how frequently divine ancestors occurred in family histories. (By the word ‘theology’ is designated the knowledge about gods.)

There are in ancient theologies very different classes of gods. Some
races, as the modern Hindu, revel in a profusion of gods and godlings,
which are continually being increased. Others, as the Turanians,
whether Sumerian Babylonians, modern Siberians, or Chinese, do not
adopt the worship of great gods, but deal with a host of animistic
spirits, ghosts, devils, or whatever we may call them; and Shamanism or
witchcraft is their system for conciliating such adversaries. But all
our knowledge of the early positions and nature of great gods shows
them to stand on an {4} entirely different footing to these varied
spirits. Were the conception of a god only an evolution from such
spirit worship we should find the worship of many gods preceding the
worship of one god, polytheism would precede monotheism in each tribe
or race. What we actually find is the contrary of this, monotheism is
the first stage traceable in theology. Hence we must rather look on
the theologic conception of the Aryan and Semitic races as quite apart
from the demon-worship of the Turanians. Indeed the Chinese seem to
have a mental aversion to the conception of a personal god, and to
think either of the host of earth spirits and other demons, or else of
the pantheistic abstraction of heaven.

Wherever we can trace back polytheism to its earliest stages we find
that it results from combinations of monotheism. In Egypt even Osiris,
Isis, and Horus (so familiar as a triad) are found at first as separate
units in different places, Isis as a virgin goddess, and Horus as a
self-existent god. Each city appears to have but one god belonging to
it, to whom others were added. Similarly in Babylonia each great city
had its supreme god; and the combinations of those, and their
transformations in order to form them in {5} groups when their homes
were politically united, show how essentially they were solitary
deities at first.

Not only must we widely distinguish the demonology of races worshipping
numerous earth spirits and demons, from the theology of races devoted
to solitary great gods; but we must further distinguish the varying
ideas of the latter class. Most of the theologic races have no
objection to tolerating the worship of other gods side by side with
that of their own local deity. It is in this way that the compound
theologies built up the polytheism of Egypt and of Greece. But others
of the theologic races have the conception of ‘a jealous god,’ who
would not tolerate the presence of a rival. We cannot date this
conception earlier than Mosaism, and this idea struggled hard against
polytheistic toleration. This view acknowledges the reality of other
gods, but ignores their claims. The still later view was that other
gods were non-existent, a position started by the Hebrew prophets in
contempt of idolatry, scarcely grasped by early Christianity, but triumphantly held by Islam.

We therefore have to deal with the following conceptions, which fall into two main groups, {6} that probably belong to different divisions of mankind:–

( Animism.
( Demonology.

( Tribal Monotheism. )
( Combinations forming )
( tolerant Polytheism. )
( Jealous Monotheism. )
( Sole Monotheism. )

At any stage the unity of different gods may be accepted as a _modus vivendi_or as a philosophy.

All of these require mention here, as more or less of each principle, both of animism and monotheism, can be traced in the innumerable combinations found during the six thousand years of Egyptian religion: these combinations of beliefs being due to combinations of the races to which they belonged.



Before we can understand what were the relations between man and the
gods we must first notice the conceptions of the nature of man. In the
prehistoric days of Egypt the position and direction of the body was
always the same in every burial, offerings of food and drink were
placed by it, figures of servants, furniture, even games, were included
in the grave. It must be concluded therefore that it was a belief in
immortality which gave rise to such a detailed ritual of the dead,
though we have no written evidence upon this.

So soon as we reach the age of documents we find on tombstones that the
person is denoted by the _khu_ between the arms of the _ka_. From
later writings it is seen that the _khu_ is applied to a spirit of man;
while the _ka_ is not the body but the activities of sense and
perception. Thus, in {8} the earliest age of documents, two entities
were believed to vitalise the body.

The _ka_ is more frequently named than any other part, as all funeral
offerings were made for the _ka_. It is said that if opportunities of
satisfaction in life were missed it is grievous to the _ka_, and that
the _ka_ must not be annoyed needlessly; hence it was more than
perception, and it included all that we might call consciousness.
Perhaps we may grasp it best as the ‘self,’ with the same variety of
meaning that we have in our own word. The _ka_ was represented as a
human being following after the man; it was born at the same time as
the man, but it persisted after death and lived in and about the tomb.
It could act and visit other _kas_ after death, but it could not resist
the least touch of physical force. It was always represented by two
upraised arms, the acting parts of the person. Beside the _ka_ of man,
all objects likewise had their _kas_, which were comparable to the
human _ka_, and among these the _ka_ lived. This view leads closely to
the world of ideas permeating the material world in later philosophy.

The _khu_ is figured as a crested bird, which has the meaning of
‘glorious’ or ‘shining’ in ordinary use. It refers to a less material
conception than {9} the _ka_, and may be called the intelligence or spirit.

The _khat_ is the material body of man which was the vehicle of the
_ka_, and inhabited by the _khu_.

The _ba_ belongs to a different pneumatology to that just noticed. It
is the soul apart from the body, figured as a human-headed bird. The
concept probably arose from the white owls, with round heads and very
human expressions, which frequent the tombs, flying noiselessly to and
fro. The _ba_ required food and drink, which were provided for it by
the goddess of the cemetery. It thus overlaps the scope of the _ka_,
and probably belongs to a different race to that which defined the _ka_.

The _sahu_ or mummy is associated particularly with the _ba_; and the
_ba_ bird is often shown as resting on the mummy or seeking to re-enter it.

The _khaybet_ was the shadow of a man; the importance of the shadow in
early ideas is well known.

The _sekhem_ was the force or ruling power of man, but is rarely mentioned.

The _ab_ is the will and intentions, symbolised by the heart; often
used in phrases, such as a man being ‘in the heart of his lord,’
‘wideness of {10} heart’ for satisfaction, ‘washing of the heart’ for
giving vent to temper.

The _hati_ is the physical heart, the ‘chief’ organ of the body, also
used metaphorically.

The _ran_ is the name which was essential to man, as also to inanimate
things. Without a name nothing really existed. The knowledge of the
name gave power over its owner; a great myth turns on Isis obtaining
the name of Ra by stratagem, and thus getting the two eyes of Ra–the
sun and moon–for her son Horus. Both in ancient and modern races the
knowledge of the real name of a man is carefully guarded, and often
secondary names are used for secular purposes. It was usual for
Egyptians to have a ‘great name’ and a ‘little name’; the great name is
often compounded with that of a god or a king, and was very probably
reserved for religious purposes, as it is only found on religious and
funerary monuments.

We must not suppose by any means that all of these parts of the person
were equally important, or were believed in simultaneously. The _ka_,
_khu_, and _khat_ seem to form one group; the _ba_ and _sahu_ belong to
another; the _ab_, _hati_, and _sekhem_ are hardly more than metaphors,
such as we commonly use; the _khaybet_ is a later idea {11} which
probably belongs to the system of animism and witchcraft, where the
shadow gave a hold upon the man. The _ran_, name, belongs partly to
the same system, but also is the germ of the later philosophy of idea.

The purpose of religion to the Egyptian was to secure the favour of the
god. There is but little trace of negative prayer to avert evils or
deprecate evil influences, but rather of positive prayer for concrete
favours. On the part of kings this is usually of the Jacob type,
offering to provide temples and services to the god in return for
material prosperity. The Egyptian was essentially self-satisfied, he
had no confession to make of sin or wrong, and had no thought of
pardon. In the judgment he boldly averred that he was free of the
forty-two sins that might prevent his entry into the kingdom of Osiris.
If he failed to establish his innocence in the weighing of his heart,
there was no other plea, but he was consumed by fire and by a
hippopotamus, and no hope remained for him.



The various beliefs of the Egyptians regarding the future life are so
distinct from each other and so incompatible, that they may be
classified into groups more readily than the theology; thus they serve
to indicate the varied sources of the religion.

The most simple form of belief was that of the continued existence of
the soul in the tomb and about the cemetery. In Upper Egypt at present
a hole is left at the top of the tomb chamber; and I have seen a woman
remove the covering of the hole, and talk down to her deceased husband.
Also funeral offerings of food and drink, and even beds, are still
placed in the tombs. A similar feeling, without any precise beliefs,
doubtless prompted the earlier forms of provision for the dead. The
soul wandered around the tomb seeking sustenance, and was fed by the
{13} goddess who dwelt in the thick sycomore trees that overshadowed
the cemetery. She is represented as pouring out drink for the _ba_ and
holding a tray of cakes for it to feed upon. In the grave we find this
belief shown by the jars of water, wine, and perhaps other liquids, the
stores of corn, the geese, haunches and heads of oxen, the cakes, and
dates, and pomegranates which were laid by the dead. In an early
king’s tomb there might be many rooms full of these offerings. There
were also the weapons for defence and for the chase, the toilet
objects, the stores of clothing, the draughtsmen, and even the
literature of papyri buried with the dead. The later form of this
system was the representation of all these offerings in sculpture and
drawing in the tomb. This modification probably belongs to the belief
in the _ka_, which could be supported by the _ka_ of the food and use
the _ka_ of the various objects, the figures of the objects being
supposed to provide the _kas_ of them. This system is entirely
complete in itself, and does not presuppose or require any theologic
connection. It might well belong to an age of simple animism, and be a
survival of that in later times.

The greatest theologic system was that of the kingdom of Osiris. This
was a counterpart of {14} the earthly life, but was reserved for the
worthy. All the dead belonged to Osiris and were brought before him
for judgment. The protest of being innocent of the forty-two sins was
made, and then the heart was weighed against truth, symbolised by the
ostrich feather, the emblem of the goddess of truth. From this
feather, the emblem of lightness, being placed against the heart in
weighing, it seems that sins were considered to weigh down the heart,
and its lightness required to be proved. Thōth, the god who
recorded the weighing, then stated that the soul left the judgment hall
true of voice with his heart and members restored to him, and that he
should follow Osiris in his kingdom. This kingdom of Osiris was at
first thought of as being in the marshlands of the delta; when these
became familiar it was transferred to Syria, and finally to the
north-east of the sky, where the Milky Way became the heavenly Nile.
The main occupation in this kingdom was agriculture, as on earth; the
souls ploughed the land, sowed the corn, and reaped the harvest of
heavenly maize, taller and fatter than any of this world. In this land
they rowed on the heavenly streams, they sat in shady arbours, and
played the games which they had loved. But the cultivation was a toil,
and {15} therefore it was to be done by numerous serfs. In the
beginning of the monarchy it seems that the servants of the king were
all buried around him to serve him in the future; from the second to
the twelfth dynasty we lose sight of this idea, and then we find slave
figures buried in the tombs. These figures were provided with the hoe
for tilling the soil, the pick for breaking the clods, a basket for
carrying the earth, a pot for watering the crops, and they were
inscribed with an order to respond for their master when he was called
on to work in the fields. In the eighteenth dynasty the figures
sometimes have actual tool models buried with them; but usually the
tools are in relief or painted on the figure. This idea continued
until the less material view of the future life arose in Greek times;
then the deceased man was said to have ‘gone to Osiris’ in such a year
of his age, but no slave figures were laid with him. This view of the
future is complete in itself, and is appropriately provided for in the tomb.

A third view of the future life belongs to an entirely different
theologic system, that of the progress of the sun-god Ra. According to
this the soul went to join the setting sun in the west, and prayed to
be allowed to enter the boat of the {16} sun in the company of the
gods; thus it would be taken along in everlasting light, and saved from
the terrors and demons of the night over which the sun triumphed. No
occupations were predicated of this future; simply to rest in the
divine company was the entire purpose, and the successful repelling of
the powers of darkness in each hour of the night by means of spells was
the only activity. To provide for the solar journey a model boat was
placed in the tomb with the figures of boatmen, to enable the dead to
sail with the sun, or to reach the solar bark. This view of the future
implied a journey to the west, and hence came the belief in the soul
setting out to cross the desert westward. We find also an early god of
the dead, Khent-amenti, ‘he who is in the west,’ probably arising from
this same view. This god was later identified with Osiris when the
fusion of the two theories of the soul arose. At Abydos Khent-amenti
only is named at first, and Osiris does not appear until later times,
though that cemetery came to be regarded as specially dedicated to Osiris.

Now in all these views that we have named there is no occasion for
preserving the body. It is the _ba_ that is fed in the cemetery, not
the body. It is an immaterial body that takes part {17} in the kingdom
of Osiris, in the sky. It is an immaterial body that can accompany the
gods in the boat of the sun. There is so far no call to conserve the
body by the peculiar mummification which first appears in the early
dynasties. The dismemberment of the bones, and removal of the flesh,
which was customary in the prehistoric times, and survived down to the
fifth dynasty, would accord with any of these theories, all of which
were probably predynastic. But the careful mummifying of the body
became customary only in the third or fourth dynasty, and is therefore
later than the theories that we have noticed. The idea of thus
preserving the body seems to look forward to some later revival of it
on earth, rather than to a personal life immediately after death. The
funeral accompaniment of this view was the abundance of amulets placed
on various parts of the body to preserve it. A few amulets are found
worn on a necklace or bracelet in early times; but the full development
of the amulet system was in the twenty-sixth to thirtieth dynasties.

We have tried to disentangle the diverse types of belief, by seeing
what is incompatible between them. But in practice we find every form
of mixture of these views in most ages. In the {18} prehistoric times
the preservation of the bones, but not of the flesh, was constant; and
food offerings show that at least the theory of the soul wandering in
the cemetery was familiar. Probably the Osiris theory is also of the
later prehistoric times, as the myth of Osiris is certainly older than
the dynasties. The Ra worship was associated specially with
Heliopolis, and may have given rise to the union with Ra also before
the dynasties, when Heliopolis was probably a capital of the kings of
Lower Egypt. The boats figured on the prehistoric tomb at
Hierakonpolis bear this out. In the first dynasty there is no mummy
known, funeral offerings abound, and the _khu_ and _ka_ are named. Our
documents do not give any evidence, then, of the Osiris and Ra
theories. In the pyramid period the king was called the Osiris, and
this view is the leading one in the Pyramid inscriptions, yet the Ra
theory is also incompatibly present; the body is mummified; but funeral
offerings of food seem to have much diminished. In the eighteenth and
nineteenth dynasties the Ra theory gained ground greatly over the
Osirian; and the basis of all the views of the future is almost
entirely the union with Ra during the night and day. The mummy and
amulet theory was not dominant; but the funeral {19} offerings somewhat
increased. The twenty-sixth dynasty almost dropped the Ra theory; the
Osirian kingdom and its population of slave figures is the most
familiar view, and the preservation of the body by amulets was
essential. Offerings of food rarely appear in these later times. This
dominance of Osiris leads on to the anthropomorphic worship, which
interacts on the growth of Christianity as we shall see further.
Lastly, when all the theologic views of the future had perished, the
oldest idea of all, food, drink, and rest for the dead, has still kept
its hold upon the feelings of the people in spite of the teachings of Islam.



The worship of animals has been known in many countries; but in Egypt
it was maintained to a later pitch of civilisation than elsewhere, and
the mixture of such a primitive system with more elevated beliefs
seemed as strange to the Greek as it does to us. The original motive
was a kinship of animals with man, much like that underlying the system
of totems. Each place or tribe had its sacred species that was linked
with the tribe; the life of the species was carefully preserved,
excepting in the one example selected for worship, which after a given
time was killed and sacramentally eaten by the tribe. This was
certainly the case with the bull at Memphis and the ram at Thebes.
That it was the whole species that was sacred, at one place or another,
is shown by the penalties for killing any animal of the species, by the
wholesale burial and even mummifying of every example, and by the
plural form of {21} the names of the gods later connected with the
animals, _Heru_, hawks, _Khnumu_, rams, etc.

In the prehistoric times the serpent was sacred; figures of the coiled
serpent were hung up in the house and worn as an amulet; similarly in
historic times a figure of the agathodemon serpent was placed in a
temple of Amenhotep III at Benha. In the first dynasty the serpent was
figured in pottery, as a fender round the hearth. The hawk also
appears in many predynastic figures, large and small, both worn on the
person and carried as standards. The lion is found both in life-size
temple figures, lesser objects of worship, and personal amulets. The
scorpion was similarly honoured in the prehistoric ages.

It is difficult to separate now between animals which were worshipped
quite independently, and those which were associated as emblems of
anthropomorphic gods. Probably we shall be right in regarding both
classes of animals as having been sacred at a remote time, and the
connection with the human form as being subsequent. The ideas
connected with the animals were those of their most prominent
characteristics; hence it appears that it was for the sake of the
character that each animal was worshipped, and not because of any
fortuitous association with a tribe.


The baboon was regarded as the emblem of Tahuti, the god of wisdom; the
serious expression and human ways of the large baboons are an obvious
cause for their being regarded as the wisest of animals. Tahuti is
represented as a baboon from the first dynasty down to late times; and
four baboons were sacred in his temple at Hermopolis. These four
baboons were often portrayed as adoring the sun; this idea is due to
their habit of chattering at sunrise.

The lioness appears in the compound figures of the goddesses Sekhet,
Bast, Mahes, and Tefnut. In the form of Sekhet the lioness is the
destructive power of Ra, the sun: it is Sekhet who, in the legend,
destroys mankind from Herakleopolis to Heliopolis at the bidding of Ra.
The other lioness goddesses are probably likewise destructive or
hunting deities. The lesser _felidae_ also appear; the _cheetah_ and
_serval_ are sacred to Hathor in Sinai; the small cats are sacred to
Bast, especially at Speos Artemidos and Bubastis.

The bull was sacred in many places, and his worship underlay that of
the human gods, who were said to be incarnated in him. The idea is
that of the fighting power, as when the king is figured as a bull
trampling on his enemies, and the reproductive power, as in the title
of the {23} self-renewing gods, ‘bull of his mother.’ The most
renowned was the _Hapi_ or Apis bull of Memphis, in whom Ptah was said
to be incarnate, and who was Osirified and became the Osir-hapi. This
appears to have originated the great Ptolemaic god Serapis, as
certainly the mausoleum of the bulls was the Serapeum of the Greeks.
Another bull of a more massive breed was the _Ur-mer_ or Mnevis of
Heliopolis, in whom Ra was incarnate. A third bull was _Bakh_ or Bakis
of Hermonthis the incarnation of Mentu. And a fourth bull, _Ka-nub_ or
Kanobos, was worshipped at the city of that name. The cow was
identified with Hathor, who appears with cow’s ears and horns, and who
is probably the cow-goddess Ashtaroth or Istar of Asia. Isis, as
identified with Hathor, is also joined in this connection.

The ram was also worshipped as a procreative god; at Mendes in the
Delta identified with Osiris, at Herakleopolis identified with
Hershefi, at Thebes as Amon, and at the cataract as Khnumu the creator.
The association of the ram with Amon was strongly held by the
Ethiopians; and in the Greek tale of Nektanebo, the last Pharaoh,
having by magic visited Olympias and become the father of Alexander, he
came as the incarnation of Amon wearing the ram’s skin.


The hippopotamus was the goddess Ta-urt, ‘the great one,’ the patroness
of pregnancy, who is never shown in any other form. Rarely this animal
appears as the emblem of the god Set.

The jackal haunted the cemeteries on the edge of the desert, and so
came to be taken as the guardian of the dead, and identified with
Anubis, the god of departing souls. Another aspect of the jackal was
as the maker of tracks in the desert; the jackal paths are the best
guides to practicable courses, avoiding the valleys and precipices, and
so the animal was known as Up-uat, ‘the opener of ways,’ who showed the
way for the dead across the western desert. Species of dogs seem to
have been held sacred and mummified on merely the general ground of
confusion with the jackal. The ichneumon and the shrewmouse were also
held sacred, though not identified with a human god.

The hawk was the principal sacred bird, and was identified with Horus
and Ra, the sun-god. It was mainly worshipped at Edfu and
Hierakonpolis. The souls of kings were supposed to fly up to heaven in
the form of hawks, perhaps due to the kingship originating in the hawk
district in Upper Egypt. Seker, the god of the dead, appears as a
mummified hawk, and on his boat {25} are many small hawks, perhaps the
souls of kings who have joined him. The mummy hawk is also Sopdu, the
god of the east.

The vulture was the emblem of maternity, as being supposed to care
especially for her young. Hence she is identified with Mut, the mother
goddess of Thebes. The queen-mothers have vulture head-dresses; the
vulture is shown hovering over kings to protect them, and a row of
spread-out vultures are figured on the roofs of the tomb passages to
protect the soul. The ibis was identified with Tahuti, the god of
Hermopolis. The goose is connected with Amon of Thebes. The swallow
was also sacred.

The crocodile was worshipped especially in the Fayum, where it
frequented the marshy levels of the great lake, and Strabo’s
description of the feeding of the sacred crocodile there is familiar.
It was also worshipped at Onuphis; and at Nubti or Ombos it was
identified with Set, and held sacred. Beside the name of Sebek or
Soukhos in Fayum, it was there identified with Osiris as the western
god of the dead. The frog was an emblem of the goddess Heqt, but was
not worshipped.

The cobra serpent was sacred from the earliest times to the present
day. It was never identified with any of the great deities, but three
goddesses {26} appear in serpent form: Uazet, the Delta goddess of
Buto; Mert-seger, ‘the lover of silence,’ the goddess of the Theban
necropolis; and Rannut, the harvest goddess. The memory of great
pythons of the prehistoric days appears in the serpent-necked monsters
on the slate palettes at the beginning of the monarchy, and the immense
serpent Apap of the underworld in the later mythology. The serpent has
however been a popular object of worship apart from specific gods. We
have already noted it on prehistoric amulets, and coiled round the
hearths of the early dynasties. Serpents were mummified; and when we
reach the full evidences of popular worship, in the terra-cotta figures
and jewellery of later times, the serpent is very prominent. There
were usually two represented together, one often with the head of
Serapis, the other of Isis, so therefore male and female. Down to
modern times a serpent is worshipped at Sheykh Heridy, and miraculous
cures attributed to it (S.R.E.B. 213).

Various fishes were sacred, as the Oxyrhynkhos, Phagros, Lepidotos,
Latos, and others; but they were not identified with gods, and we do
not know of their being worshipped. The scorpion was the emblem of the
goddess Selk, and is found {27} in prehistoric amulets; but it is not
known to have been adored, and most usually it represents evil, where
Horus is shown overcoming noxious creatures.

It will be observed that nearly all of the animals which were
worshipped had qualities for which they were noted, and in connection
with which they were venerated. If the animal worship were due to
totemism, or a sense of animal brotherhood in certain tribes, we must
also assume that that was due to these qualities of the animal; whereas
totemism in other countries does not seem to be due to veneration of
special qualities of the animals. It is therefore more likely that the
animal worship simply arose from the nature of the animals, and not
from any true totemism, although each animal came to be associated with
the worship of a particular tribe or district.



In a country which has been subjected to so many inflows of various
peoples as in Egypt, it is to be expected that there would be a great
diversity of deities and a complex and inconsistent theology. To
discriminate the principal classes of conceptions of gods is the first
step toward understanding the growth of the systems. The broad
division of animal gods and human gods is obvious; and the mixed type
of human figures with animal heads is clearly an adaptation of the
animal gods to the later conceptions of a human god. Another valuable
separator lies in the compound names of gods. It is impossible to
suppose a people uniting two gods, both of which belonged to them
aboriginally; there would be no reason for two similar gods in a single
system, and we never hear in classical mythology of Hermes-Apollo or
Pallas-Artemis, while Zeus is compounded with half of the barbarian
gods of Asia. So in Egypt, when {29} we find such compounds as
Amon-Ra, or Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, we have the certainty that each name in
the compound is derived from a different race, and that a unifying
operation has taken place on gods that belonged to entirely different sources.

We must beware of reading our modern ideas into the ancient views. As
we noticed in the first chapter, each tribe or locality seems to have
had but one god originally; certainly the more remote our view, the
more separate are the gods. Hence to the people of any one district
‘the god’ was a distinctive name for their own god; and it would have
seemed as strange to discriminate him from the surrounding gods, as it
would to a Christian in Europe if he specified that he did not mean
Allah or Siva or Heaven when he speaks of God. Hence we find generic
descriptions used in place of the god’s name, as ‘lord of heaven,’ or
‘mistress of turquoise,’ while it is certain that specific gods as
Osiris or Hathor are in view. A generic name ‘god’ or ‘the god’ no
more implies that the Egyptians recognised a unity of all the gods,
than ‘god’ in the Old Testament implies that Yahvah was one with
Chemosh and Baal. The simplicity of the term only shows that no other
object of adoration was in view.


We have already noticed the purely animal gods; following on these we
now shall describe those which were combined with a human form, then
those which are purely human in their character, next those which are
nature gods, and lastly those which are of an abstract character. The
gods which belonged to peoples who did not conquer or occupy Egypt must
be ranked as foreign gods.

+Animal-Headed Gods+.–Beside the worship of species of animals, which
we have noticed in the last chapter, certain animals were combined with
the human form. It was always the head of the animal which was united
to a human body; the only converse instance of a human head on an
animal body–the sphinxes–represented the king and not a god.
Possibly the combination arose from priests wearing the heads of
animals when personating the god, as the high priest wore the ram’s
skin when personating Amon. But when we notice the frequent
combinations and love of symbolism, shown upon the early carvings, the
union of the ancient sacred animal with the human form is quite in
keeping with the views and feelings of the primitive Egyptians. Many
of these composite gods never emerged from the animal connection, and
these we must {31} regard as belonging to the earlier stage of theology.

+Seker+ was a Memphite god of the dead, independent of the worship of
Osiris and of Ptah, for he was combined with them as Ptah-Seker-Osiris;
as he maintained a place there in the face of the great worship of
Ptah, he was probably an older god, and this is indicated by his having
an entirely animal form down to a late date. The sacred bark of Seker
bore his figure as that of a mummified hawk; and along the boat is a
row of hawks which probably are the spirits of deceased kings who have
joined Seker in his journey to the world of the dead. As there are
often two allied forms of the same root, one written with _k_ and the
other with _g_,[1] it seems probable that Seker, the funeral god of
Memphis, is allied to

+Mert Seger+ (lover of silence). She was the funeral god of Thebes,
and was usually figured as a serpent. From being only known in animal
form, and unconnected with any of the elaborated theology, it seems
that we have in this goddess a primitive deity of the dead. It
appears, then, that the gods of the great cemeteries were known {32} as
Silence and the Lover of Silence, and both come down from the age of
animal deities. Seker became in late times changed into a hawk-headed
human figure.

Two important deities of early times were +Nekhebt+, the vulture
goddess of the southern kingdom, centred at Hierakonpolis, and +Uazet+,
the serpent goddess of the northern kingdom, centred at Buto. These
appear in all ages as the emblems of the two kingdoms, frequently as
supporters on either side of the royal names; in later times they
appear as human goddesses crowning the king.

+Khnumu+, the creator, was the great god of the cataract. He is shown
as making man upon the potter’s wheel; and in a tale he is said to
frame a woman. He must belong to a different source from that of Ptah
or Ra, and was the creative principle in the period of animal gods, as
he is almost always shown with the head of a ram. He was popular down
to late times, where amulets of his figure are often found.

+Tahuti+ or +Thōth+ was the god of writing and learning, and was the
chief deity of Hermopolis. He almost always has the head of an ibis,
the bird sacred to him. The baboon is also a frequent emblem of his,
but he is never figured with the {33} baboon head. The ibis appears
standing upon a shrine as early as on a tablet of Mena; Thōth is the
constant recorder in scenes of the judgment, and he appears down to
Roman times as the patron of scribes. The eighteenth dynasty of kings
incorporated his name as Thōthmes, ‘born of Thōth,’ owing to
their Hermopolite origin.

+Sekhmet+ is the lion goddess, who represents the fierceness of the
sun’s heat. She appears in the myth of the destruction of mankind as
slaughtering the enemies of Ra. Her only form is that with the head of
a lioness. But she blends imperceptibly with

+Bastet+, who has the head of a cat. She was the goddess of Pa-bast or
Bubastis, and in her honour immense festivals were there held. Her
name is found in the beginning of the pyramid times; but her main
period of popularity was that of the Shishaks who ruled from Bubastis,
and in the later times images of her were very frequent as amulets. It
is possible from the name that this feline goddess, whose foreign
origin is acknowledged, was the female form of the god Bes, who is
dressed in a lion’s skin, and also came in from the east (see chap. ix).

+Mentu+ was the hawk-god of Erment south of Thebes, who became in the
eighteenth to {34} twentieth dynasties especially the god of war. He
appears with the hawk head, or sometimes as a hawk-headed sphinx; and
he became confused with Ra and with Amon.

+Sebek+ is figured as a man with the crocodile’s head; but he has no
theologic importance, and always remained the local god of certain districts.

+Heqt+, the goddess symbolised by the frog, was the patron of birth,
and assisted in the infancy of the kings. She was a popular and
general deity not mainly associated with particular places.

+Hershefi+ was the ram-headed god of Herakleopolis, but is never found
outside of that region.

We now come to three animal-headed gods who became associated with the
great Osiride group of human gods. +Set+ or +Setesh+ was the god of
the prehistoric inhabitants before the coming in of Horus. He is
always shown with the head of a fabulous animal, having upright square
ears and a long nose. When in entirely animal form he has a long
upright tail. The dog-like animal is the earliest type, as in the
second dynasty; but later the human form with animal head prevailed.
His worship underwent great fluctuations. At first he was the great
god of all Egypt; but his worshippers were gradually driven out by the
followers of Horus, {35} as described in a semi-mythical history. Then
he appears strongly in the second dynasty, the last king of which
united the worship of Set and Horus. In the early formulae for the
dead he is honoured equally with Horus. After suppression he appears
in favour in the early eighteenth dynasty; and even gave the name to
Sety I and II of the nineteenth dynasty. His part in the Osiris myth
will be noted below.

+Anpu+ or +Anubis+ was originally the jackal guardian of the cemetery,
and the leader of the dead in the other world. Nearly all the early
funeral formulae mention Anpu on his hill, or Anpu lord of the
underworld. As the patron of the dead he naturally took a place in the
myth of Osiris, the god of the dead, and appears as leading the soul
into the judgment of Osiris.

+Horus+ was the hawk-god of Upper Egypt, especially of Edfu and
Hierakonpolis. Though originally an independent god, and even keeping
apart as Hor-ur, ‘Horus the elder,’ throughout later times, yet he was
early mingled with the Osiris myth, probably as the ejector of Set who
was also the enemy of Osiris. He is sometimes entirely in hawk form;
more usually with a hawk’s head, and in later times he appears as the
infant son of Isis entirely human in form. {36} His special function
is that of overcoming evil; in the earliest days the conqueror of Set,
later as the subduer of noxious animals, figured on a very popular
amulet, and lastly, in Roman times, as a hawk-headed warrior on
horseback slaying a dragon, thus passing into the type of St. George.
He also became mingled with early Christian ideas; and the lock of hair
of Horus attached to the cross originated the _chi rho_ monogram of Christ.

We have now passed briefly over the principal gods which combined the
animal and human forms. We see how the animal form is generally the
older, and how it was apparently independent of the human form, which
has been attached to it by a more anthropomorphic people. We see that
all of these gods must be accredited to the second stratum, if not to
the earliest formation, of religion in Egypt. And we must associate
with this theology the cemetery theory of the soul which preceded that
of the Osiris or Ra religions.

[1] For instance the words _sek_, to move; _seg_, to go; _sek_, to destroy; _sega_, to break; _kauy_, cow; _gaua_, ox; _keba_ and _geba_, sky, etc.



We now turn to the deities which are always represented in human form,
and never associated with animal figures; neither do they originate in
a cosmic–or nature–worship, nor in abstract ideas. There are three
divisions of this class, the Osiris family, the Amon family, and the
goddess Neit.

+Osiris+ (_Asar_ or _Asir_) is the most familiar figure of the
pantheon, but it is mainly on late sources that we have to depend for
the myth; and his worship was so much adapted to harmonise with other
ideas, that care is needed to trace his true position. The Osiride
portions of the _Book of the Dead_ are certainly very early, and
precede the solar portions, though both views were already mingled in
the pyramid texts. We cannot doubt but that the Osiris worship reaches
back to the prehistoric age. In the earliest tombs offering to Anubis
is named, for whom Osiris {38} became substituted in the fifth and
sixth dynasties. In the pyramid times we only find that kings are
termed Osiris, having undergone their apotheosis at the _sed_ festival;
but in the eighteenth dynasty and onward every justified person was
entitled the Osiris, as being united with the god. His worship was
unknown at Abydos in the earlier temples, and is not mentioned at the
cataracts; though in later times he became the leading deity of Abydos
and of Philae. Thus in all directions the recognition of Osiris
continued to increase; but, looking at the antiquity of his cult, we
must recognise in this change the gradual triumph of a popular religion
over a state religion which had been superimposed upon it. The
earliest phase of Osirism that we can identify is in portions of the
_Book of the Dead_. These assume the kingdom of Osiris, and a judgment
preceding admission to the blessed future; the completely human
character of Osiris and his family are implied, and there is no trace
of animal or nature-worship belonging to him. How far the myth, as
recorded in Roman times by Plutarch, can be traced to earlier and later
sources is very uncertain. The main outlines, which may be primitive,
are as follow. Osiris was a civilising king of Egypt, who was murdered
by his brother Set and seventy-two {39} conspirators. Isis, his wife,
found the coffin of Osiris at Byblos in Syria and brought it to Egypt.
Set then tore up the body of Osiris and scattered it. Isis sought the
fragments, and built a shrine over each of them. Isis and Horus then
attacked Set and drove him from Egypt, and finally down the Red Sea.
In other aspects Osiris seems to have been a corn god, and the
scattering of his body in Egypt is like the well-known division of the
sacrifice to the corn god, and the burial of parts in separate fields
to ensure their fertility.

How we are to analyse the formation of the early myths is suggested by
the known changes of later times. When two tribes who worshipped
different gods fought together and one overcame the other, the god of
the conqueror is always considered to have overcome the god of the
vanquished. The struggle of Horus and Set is expressly stated on the
Temple of Edfu to have been a tribal war, in which the followers of
Horus overcame those of Set, established garrisons and forges at
various places down the Nile valley, and finally ousted the Set party
from the whole land. We can hardly therefore avoid reading the history
of the animosities of the gods as being the struggles of their worshippers.


If we try to trace the historic basis of the Osiris myth, we must take
into account the early customs and ideas among which the myths arose.
The cutting up of the body was the regular ritual of the prehistoric
people, and (even as late as the fifth dynasty) the bones were
separately treated, and even wrapped up separately when the body was
reunited for burial. We must also notice the apotheosis festival of
the king, which was probably his sacrificial death and union with the
god, in the prehistoric age. The course of events which might have
served as the basis for the Osiris myth may then have been somewhat as
follows. Osiris was the god of a tribe which occupied a large part of
Egypt. The kings of this tribe were sacrificed after thirty years’
reign (like the killing of kings at fixed intervals elsewhere), and
they thus became the Osiris himself. Their bodies were dismembered, as
usual at that period, the flesh ceremonially eaten by the assembled
people (as was done in prehistoric times), and the bones distributed
among the various centres of the tribe, the head to Abydos, the neck,
spine, limbs, etc., to various places, of which there were fourteen in
all. The worshippers of Set broke in upon this people, stopped this
worship, or killed Osiris, as was said, and established the dominion
{41} of their animal god. They were in turn attacked by the Isis
worshippers, who joined the older population of the Osiris tribe,
re-opened the shrines, and established Osiris worship again. The Set
tribe returning in force attacked the Osiris tribe and scattered all
the relics of the shrines in every part of the land. To re-establish
their power, the Osiris and Isis tribes called in the worshippers of
the hawk Horus, who were old enemies of the Set tribe, and with their
help finally expelled the Set worshippers from the whole country. Such
a history, somewhat misunderstood in a later age when the sacrifice of
kings and anthropophagy was forgotten, would give the basis for nearly
all the features of the Osiris myth as recorded in Roman times.

If we try to materialise this history more closely we see that the
Osiris worshippers occupied both the Delta and Upper Egypt, and that
fourteen important centres were recognised at the earliest time, which
afterwards became the capitals of nomes, and were added to until they
numbered forty-two divisions in later ages. Set was the god of the
Asiatic invaders who broke in upon this civilisation; and about a
quarter through the long ages of the prehistoric culture (perhaps 7500
B.C.) we find material evidences of {42} considerable changes brought
in from the Arabian or Semitic side. It may not be unlikely that this
was the first triumph of Set. The Isis worshippers came from the
Delta, where Isis was worshipped at Buto as a virgin goddess, apart
from Osiris or Horus. These followers of Isis succeeded in helping the
rest of the early Libyan inhabitants to resist the Set worship, and
re-establish Osiris. The close of the prehistoric age is marked by a
great decline in work and abilities, very likely due to more trouble
from Asia, when Set scattered the relics of Osiris. Lastly, we cannot
avoid seeing in the Horus triumph the conquest of Egypt by the dynastic
race who came down from the district of Edfu and Hierakonpolis, the
centres of Horus worship; and helped the older inhabitants to drive out
the Asiatics. Nearly the same chain of events is seen in later times,
when the Berber king Aahmes I helped the Egyptians to expel the Hyksos.
If we can thus succeed in connecting the archaeology of the prehistoric
age with the history preserved in the myths, it shows that Osiris must
have been the national god as early as the beginning of prehistoric
culture. His civilising mission may well have been the introduction of
cultivation, at about 8000 B.C., into the Nile valley.


The theology of Osiris was at first that of a god of those holy fields in which the souls of the dead enjoyed a future life. There was necessarily some selection to exclude the wicked from such happiness, and Osiris judged each soul whether it were worthy. This judgment became elaborated in detailed scenes, where Isis and Neb-hat stand behind Osiris who is on his throne, Anubis leads in the soul, the heart is placed in the balance, and Thōth stands to weigh it and to record the result. The occupations of the souls in this future we have noticed in chapter iii. The function of Osiris was therefore the reception and rule of the dead, and we never find him as a god of
action or patronising any of the affairs of life.

+Isis+ (_Aset_ or _Isit_) became attached at a very early time to the
Osiris worship; and appears in later myths as the sister and wife of
Osiris. But she always remained on a very different plane to Osiris.
Her worship and priesthood were far more popular than those of Osiris,
persons were named after her much more often than after Osiris, and she
appears far more usually in the activities of life. Her union in the
Osiris myth by no moans blotted out her independent position and
importance as a deity, though it gave her {44} a far more widespread
devotion. The union of Horus with the myth, and the establishment of
Isis as the mother goddess, was the main mode of her importance in
later times. Isis as the nursing mother is seldom shown until the
twenty-sixth dynasty; then the type continually became more popular,
until it outgrew all other religions of the country. In the Roman
times the mother Isis not only received the devotion of all Egypt, but
her worship spread rapidly abroad, like that of Mithra. It became the
popular devotion of Italy; and, after a change of name due to the
growth of Christianity, she has continued to receive the adoration of a
large part of Europe down to the present day as the Madonna.

+Nephthys+ (_Neb-hat_) was a shadowy double of Isis; reputedly her
sister, and always associated with her, she seems to have no other
function. Her name, ‘mistress of the palace,’ suggests that she was
the consort of Osiris at the first, as a necessary but passive
complement in the system of his kingdom. When the active Isis worship
entered into the renovation of Osiris, Nebhat remained of nominal
importance, but practically ignored.

+Horus+ (_Heru_ or _Horu_) has a more complex {45} history than any
other god. We cannot assign the various stages of it with certainty,
but we can discriminate the following ideas. (_A_) There was an elder
or greater Horus, _Hor-ur_ (or Aroeris of the Greeks) who was credited
with being the brother of Osiris, older than Isis, Set, or Nephthys.
He was always in human form, and was the god of Letopolis. This seems
to have been the primitive god of a tribe cognate to the Osiris
worshippers. What connection this god had with the hawk we do not
know; often Horus is found written without the hawk, simply as _hr_,
with the meaning of ‘upper’ or ‘above.’ This word generally has the
determinative of sky, and so means primitively the sky or one belonging
to the sky. It is at least possible that there was a sky-god _her_ at
Letopolis, and likewise the hawk-god was a sky-god _her_ at Edfu, and
hence the mixture of the two deities. (_B_) The hawk-god of the south,
at Edfu and Hierakonpolis, became so firmly embedded in the myth as the
avenger of Osiris, that we must accept the southern people as the
ejectors of the Set tribe. It is always the hawk-headed Horus who wars
against Set, and attends on the enthroned Osiris. (_C_) The hawk Horus
became identified with the sun-god, and hence came the winged solar
disk as the emblem {46} of Horus of Edfu, and the title of Horus on the
horizons (at rising and setting) Hor-em-akhti, Harmakhis of the Greeks.
(_D_) Another aspect resulting from Horus being the ‘sky’ god, was that
the sun and moon were his two eyes; hence he was Hor-merti, Horus of
the two eyes, and the sacred eye of Horus (_uza_) became the most usual
of all amulets. (_E_) Horus, as conqueror of Set, appears as the hawk
standing on the sign of gold, _nub_; _nubti_ was the title of Set, and
thus Horus is shown trampling upon Set; this became a usual title of the kings.

There are many less important forms of Horus, but the form which outgrew all others in popular estimation was (_F_) Hor-pe-khroti, Harpokrates of the Greeks, ‘Horus the child.’ As the son of Isis he constantly appears from the nineteenth dynasty onward. One of the earlier of these forms is that of the boy Horus standing upon crocodiles, and grasping scorpions and noxious animals in his hands. This type was a favourite amulet down to Ptolemaic times, and is often found carved in stone to be placed in a house, but was scarcely ever made in other materials or for suspension on the person.

The form of the young Horus seated on an open lotus flower was also popular in the Greek times. But the infant Horus with his finger to his lips was the most popular form of all, sometimes alone, sometimes on his mother’s lap. The finger, which pointed to his being a sucking child, was absurdly misunderstood by the Greeks as an emblem of silence. From the twenty-sixth dynasty down to late Roman times the infant Horus, or the young boy, was the most prominent subject on the temples, and the commonest figure in the homes of the people.

The other main group of human gods was Amon, Mut, and Khonsu of Thebes. _Amon_ was the local god of Karnak, and owed his importance in Egypt to the political rise of his district. The Theban kingdom of the twelfth dynasty spread his fame, the great kings of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasty ascribed their victories to Amon, his high priest became a political power which absorbed the state after the twentieth dynasty, and the importance of the god only ceased with the fall of his city. The original attributes and the origin of the name of Amon are unknown; but he became combined with Ra, the sun-god, and as Amon-Ra he was ‘king of the gods,’ and ‘lord of the thrones of the world.’ The supremacy of Amon was for some centuries an article of political faith, and many other gods were merged in him, and only survived as aspects of the great god of all. The queens were the high priestesses of the god, and he was the divine father of their children; the kings being only incarnations of Amon in their relation to the queens.

+Mut+, the great mother, was the goddess of Thebes, and hence the consort of Amon. She is often shown as leading and protecting the kings, and the queens appear in the character of this goddess. Little is known about her otherwise, and she disappears in the later theology.

+Khonsu+ is a youthful god combined in the Theban system as the son of Amon and Mut. He is closely parallel to Thōth as being a god of time, as a moon god, and of science, ‘the executor of plans.’ A large temple was dedicated to him at Karnak, but otherwise he was not of religious importance.

+Neit+ was a goddess of the Libyan people; but her worship was firmly implanted by them in Egypt. She was a goddess of hunting and of weaving, the two arts of a nomadic people. Her emblem was a distaff with two crossed arrows, and her name was written with a figure of a weaver’s shuttle. She was adored in the first dynasty, when the name Merneit, ‘loved by Neit,’ occurs; and her priesthood was one of the most {49} usual in the pyramid period. She was almost lost to sight during some thousands of years, but she became the state goddess of the twenty-sixth dynasty, when the Libyans set up their capital in her city of Sais. In later times she again disappears from customary religion.


See part 2 for the next chapters



Text from: http://egyptian-gods.org/the-religion-of-ancient-egypt/




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2 thoughts on “Envy of Seth – 1

  1. thesevenminds June 6, 2017 at 8:30 pm Reply

    There’s an exhibit at the Petrie Museum at this very moment expounding on Petrie’s CAREER RELATIONSHIP with EUGENICIST FRANCIS GALTON (this dude is the FATHER OF EUGENICS) http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/Francis_Galton .[if] Budge is discredited for socializing with people who wrote whatever the hell they felt like writing about…then Petrie has no voice in this forum as well: — Shakka Ahmose Manu (worldafropedia)

  2. Envy of Set – 1 | The Seven Worlds June 12, 2017 at 4:55 pm Reply

    […] Part 1 See here […]

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