MYTHS OF ANCIENT EGYPT & THEIR SOCIAL – CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

sun-god
The Pharaonic invocation of the Sun God.

She spoke to the Majesty of Ra : “What is this, O divine Father? what is this? Has a snake brought pain to thee? Has the creation of thy hand lifted up its head against thee? Lo, it shall be overthrown by the might of my magic, I will drive it out by means of thy glory.” And Isis spoke again, and her voice was low and soothing, “Tell me thy Name, O divine Father, thy true Name, thy secret Name, for he only can live who is called by his name.”

SLIDE 1 – WHAT IS A MYTH?

Without knowing the connotation of the term “Myth”, it is difficult to understand spiritual world created by the ancient Egyptians which remains unique and familiar in many ways. Myth is a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief. Depending on the culture in question, the myths assume numerous forms, pinpointing vital issues and values in the life of the society concerned. The themes of popular myths circle around creation, maturity, decay and rejuvenation, albeit without any scientific and sociological proof. In actual, they are bridges between the intellect and emotion, and heart and mind for they express an idea that triggers a response encompassing and interlinking many aspects of “Reality”, be it natural, social or political.

SLIDE 2 – ANCIENT EGYPTIAN MYTHS

For the Egyptians religion had been defined as a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. This was somewhat of an over simplification because religions usually included a system of values as well as various practices. The chief sources of Egyptian myths could be found in accounts of historians like Herodotus, Plutarch, Siculus, etc, the hymns, funerary texts, rituals, temple decorations and the texts of Unas, Teta, Pepi, etc.

Egyptian religion could be said to encompass their ancient gods, the mythology or accounts of those gods and other aspects of the religion such as creation, death and the afterlife, and the cults who worshiped the gods. However, there were certainly more complexities to the religion, such as how the king played into this structure of religion, and moral dogma concerning what the god’s expected of humans (a system of values).

The character of the spiritual world of Ancient Egypt was both mysterious and manifest, at once accessible and hidden, for although Egyptian religion was often shrouded in layers of myth and ritual, it nevertheless permeated the ancient civilization of the Nile and ultimately shaped, sustained and directed Egyptian culture in almost every way. The Religion concerned continued to offer diversity and variety in the myths of creation, maturity, decay and regeneration in the individual human lives and in the cosmos. The myths were not mere accounts of an exaggerated past in a fantastical place – they were inspired by the nature of the elongated valley. The riverbanks were a haven from the surrounding deserts in which the Egyptians would nourish their own unique worldview. A stark duality – harsh deserts versus fertile river margins was deeply woven into Egyptian thought. Upper Egypt comprised narrow river valleys from Aswan to Memphis under the protection of the God Horus whereas Lower Egypt of marshes, rivers and watercourses of the Nile Delta was assigned the authority of the God Seth. Also the Underworld Duat had topography analogous to that of Egypt with lakes, islands, and even fields of Yarn or Barley. For them the world ended at the first cataract of the Nile.

The myths of Egypt reflected the factors of Egyptian prosperity as they were based fundamentally on the daily appearance of the sun and the annual flooding of the Nile both of which safe conducted agriculture and continuity of life in the region.

The concepts of Henotheism and Syncretism were very strong in Egyptian Religion. However religion assumed local forms and though reforms were made by priests and pharaohs, never a change was made in the deference towards the popular clamor unless it was a diversion of the old type. The theological cult interestingly had two components – the idealistic priests and the orthodox people.

SLIDE 3 – FEATURES OF EGYPTIAN MYTHOLOGY

The Egyptian Pantheon mirrored all aspects of human life including nurturing, farming, learning, music, etc. The religion was not the cult of the Dead; rather it was the cult of Resurrection for it viewed immortality as an acquired power of transmigration from one body to another, escaping human death by transference to successive forms and renewal of life force. Hence rather than creating myths of entertainment, it had devised myths of creation, a transitory death and an incessant rejuvenation. To some degree these myths represented competing theologies, but they also represent different aspects of the process of creation.

The relationship between the Deities reflected the moral code and value of the era, practically highlighting the Good against the Bad and Peace against Chaos.

Naturism and Carnalism are important aspects of this pagan religion. Owing to strong geographical influences, the Ancient Egyptians personified the forces of nature to explain the unexplained. Natural phenomena were thought of as Gods needing to be cajoled and encouraged with worship and sacrifice.

Birds and animals were thought to possess strange natural powers because of which they were personified either purely fauna or in strange forms with a bewildering complexity of both man and beast. Certain sacred animals .i.e., baboons, cats, crocodiles, hawks, etc, represented a greater degree of weight by which the universe was measured because of which they were singled out and buried selectively.

Theriomorphic (plant) and phytomorphic (animal) deities were dominant. Even the cults followed such as that of Osiris, Horus, Re and the respective Pharaohs were of a strong “fertility “essence”.

The Egyptians had in their cult embodied the ideal of divine kingship or priest king: kings took their place in the mythic world as soon as they assumed the throne.

SLIDE 4 – MYTHICAL THEME

  • COSMOLOGY – Creation of the Universe
  • COSMOGONY – Creation of the native Pantheon and mankind from Cosmic Sources
  • DESTRUCTION – The death of a deity or destruction of mankind
  • AFTERLIFE AND RESURRECTION – Belief in immortality
  • ROYAL DIVINITY – worshipping the divine ruler and the following of the cult of the priest king.

SLIDE 5 – MYTHS OF ORIGIN

The ancient Egyptian’s understanding of the Universe was limited by what he saw around him – the course of the sun and the changing levels and flooding of the river Nile. As the floodwater receded from the river banks, black silt was left behind that helped to flourish crops and sustain life. It was concluded that creation started in a similar way – from a mound that rose from the surrounding water of chaos , in a distant period known as zp tpj (sometimes transcribed as Zep Tepi), “the first occasion”, and by the virtue of its procreative energy, created the vast expanse of primeval life. The mound was central to all Egyptian creation myths and its existence was never disputed. Every major religious site of the period – Memphis, Heliopolis, Hermopolis and Elephantine claimed that the sacred mound had initially risen within their respective domains, thereby furnishing the existing body of beliefs with versions of their own at Heliopolis, a family of the original Gods, the “Ennead” was worshipped. The first God to materialize on the mound was Atum who came into being himself and by masturbation produced the twins – Shu (air) and Tefnut (Moisture). In other versions he sneezed out Shu and coughed out Tefnut. Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Geb( Earth) and Nut(Sky) who in turn parented Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Atum’s act of creation was physically procreative in character; it was his hand that was ascribed the female qualities. At Memphis, Ptah , the patron of craftsmen and his wife Sekhmet and son, Nefertum was worshipped. Ptah was accredited an intellectual contemplative creation – the ideas that emanated from his heart when issued from his mouth came out as a litany of names that gave birth to the successive deities, shrines, temples and provinces. In other versions the Ennead was the lips and Atum was the teeth of Ptah. In some cases the two myths coincided – Atum was assigned a material presence whereas Ptah given an intellectual presence. Neither Atum nor Ptah rose to positions of supremacy; however while Atum faded into oblivion, Ptah , in the Late Period, was incorporated in the holy trinity of Ptah – Sokar – Osiris. Ptah’s chief shrine at Memphis “ Hwt – Ka – Ptah “ ( Mansion of the Spirit of Ptah) was alluded as “Aeguptos” in Greek – the name from which the Kingdom’s modern nomenclature “ Egypt” was derived.

The Hermopolis Origin Myths recounted what happened before the mound was formed. According to them the “Ogdoad”, a group of eight deities inhabited the primeval world before the creation of humanity. The males lived as frogs and the females lived as baboons or snakes and the four couples represented four aspects of the Universe – 1) Nun and Nunet represented the formless ocean 2)Kek and Kauket represented darkness 3)Amun and Amunet represented the hidden powers and 4) Heh and Hauket represented infinity. Thoth, the God of Learning drove the couples together, creating a cataclysmic event that produced a mound by tremendous upheaval and on that a cosmic egg that hatched to give rise to the Sun God. The egg on the Primeval Mound , in other versions, in an island of flames, hatched to give rise to the Sun God who descended into the sky and created Atum, who in turn created the Ennead.  In Thebes it was believed that the all powerful Amun existed as the serpent Amun – Kamutef in the waters of the Nun who had the honking call of a goose. His cryoneday burst forth through the stillness of the Universe, causing the cosmic reaction that created the Ogdead and the Ennead. The Elephantine creation myth held that the Benu bird (Phoenix) laid the cosmic egg on the primeval mound from which emerged Amun. Amun ordered the ram headed God, Khnum to fashion out humans from clay in his potter’s wheel. Khnum fashioned three models – the Ka (soul), the Ba(personality) and the Akh(body) and set into motion the worldwide propagation of human species.

The atmosphere and the Earth came into being when Nut and Geb became involved in an illict union. Atum, their grandfather ordered their father Shu to separate them. Shu stepped on Geb and hoisted Nut upward.  Some myths even frame Nut as a cosmic cow whose head was heaven; the belly was the vault of the sky on which the stars were studded. In this context Nut was even recognized as Hathor. The Sun God was born every morning as the calf or a child from her womb. He was born as Khepri ( new born) at the Eastern Mountain of Bakhu at dawn  ; he travelled through the sky in the noon as the youth (Re – Harakhty) and with the approach of the Duat (Underworld), died at the Western Mountain of Manu as Atum (old man) to be reborn the next morning.

For the Egyptians, creation was no isolated event – it was a state of perfection that underwent a continuous process everyday and every season. It was a cardinal procedure that sustained life on Earth.

SLIDE 6 – MYTHS OF DESTRUCTION

Equally popular were the Destruction Myths that conveyed the idea that after creation, there had to be temporary destruction for rejuvenation to take place. Each and every destruction myth was associated in fact to the harsh and somewhat fatal factors that existed in the environment around the Egyptians – chaos , poisonous snakes, predatory beasts, scorching sun, droughts, and of course both the failing and unfailing Nile floods that brought with it  besides silt, destruction of life and private property.

The most popular of the destruction myths was that of Seth, the God of Chaos who murdered his own brother Osiris and usurped the throne. He was the very representation of those assassins and usurpers who attempted to dispose the rightful king and destroy the Maat – a political disturbance that despite occurring usually was highly discouraged.

There was a great fear of poisonous snakes in the Nile Delta because of which a number of serpent deities – Wadjet, the female counterparts of the Ogdoad and Renenutet – were worshiped in Egypt both to ward off evil as well as court fortunes. For instance Renenutet was the nourishing snake of good fortune, childbirth and harvest. The destruction myth of Hermopolis followed that the archer Goddess Neith spat into the primeval waters both the Sun God Amun and his evil antithesis – the basilisk Apophis. He lurked in the Duat awaiting the arrival of Amun. Amun fought and defeated Apophis every night during his journey through the Duat by the magic and cunningness of Seth and emerged into the horizon the next day. The ancient Egyptian priesthood even devised spells and rituals to assist Amun in his battle for if the Sun God was defeated, he would himself turn into a snake, returning chaos to the world.

The Heliopolis Destruction myth concerned the ferocious and salvaging form of the Goddess Hathor – the lion headed Sekhmet. When Re grew old and inefficient, he heard men mocking him and planning and usurpation. Infuriated he tried to scorch the humans in the blazing desert sun – the mythical manifestation of the droughts and accompanying death brought by the failure of Nile Floods. Yet the victims escaped death by taking shelter underneath the rocks and an enraged Re this time sent is eye – the Goddess Hathor as the ferocious Sekhmet who punished humanity by slaughter. Gradually she developed an insatiable thirst for blood and in a frenzy took to the total destruction of the human race, An alarmed Re , seeking to stop her, consigned messengers to develop an intoxicating drink of local red ochre that looked like blood and empty jars of it on the fields lying in Sekhmet’s way. She saw the red fields, swooped down to drink the liquid and gradually fell into a stupor. When she regained her senses, she had forgotten her salvage and she returned home as the benevolent Goddess Hathor. From then on the ochre drink – the barley beer – became a state decreed food in both daily and ceremonial life. Perhaps this contributed to the beer jar to become an ubiquitous vessel in the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Beer jars were a fundamental part of wage transactions across Egypt during the Old Kingdom, serving as both a container for beer and a measure of value. They provide us with a unit fundamental to Egypt’s economic structure that is particularly crucial when discussing the non-elite classes. According to most applications of craft production theory, beer jars could not have fallen under state supervision as attached specialists did not produce utilitarian wares. However, following this deduction too closely without evaluating the purposes, social roles, and structural implications of different object types precludes the ability to study the relationship of utilitarian wares to state institutions because such interactions are already deemed impossible.

The association of salvage with the questioning Sphinx – “Abu – ai – Hawt” ( Father of Terror), made famous by the Oediphus myth  didn’t offer an plausible explanation for its development.

SLIDE 7 – MYTHS OF RESURRECTION

The resurrection myths all conveyed what the Egyptians thought of death – a transitional phase in life that led to the afterlife and an obsession with immortality. The motif of a dying deity appeared within the mythology of diverse Egyptian cultures – perhaps because attributes of deities were derived from everyday experiences, and the ensuing conflicts often included death. Some gods who died were also seen as either returning or bring about life in some other form, often associated with the vegetation cycle, or a staple food, in effect taking the form of a vegetation deity.

The foremost was the resurrection of Re every morning after his journey through the twelve hours of night. Like the Scarab beetle which laid its eggs in the dung and rolled it inside the burrow, the sun journeyed through the skies to emerge next day from the mound of Mt. Bakhu. The God Akhet, represented by twin lions was said to wait upon the emerging new born sun, heralding the solar rejuvenation.

Secondly because the lotus floated in the waters of the Nile, closing its petals at night and reopening them the next morning, it was held synonymous to resurrection – life after death. In Hermopolis, it was believed that it was a giant lotus blossom that first emerged from the primordial waters of Nun and from which the sun-god came forth (portrayed in the image at left). As a symbol of re-birth, the lotus was closely related to the imagery of the funerary and Osirian cult. The Four Sons of Horus were frequently shown standing on a lotus in front of Osiris. The Book of the Dead contains spells for “transforming oneself into a lotus” and thus fulfilling the promise of resurrection. The lotus was commonly used in art as a symbol of Upper Egypt. It was often shown with its long stems intertwined with papyrus reeds (a symbol of Lower Egypt) as a representation of the unification of the two lands.

The most famous of the resurrection myths was that of the burden of Isis. Isis was called the Mother of Life, but she was also known as the Crone of Death. Her immense powers earned her the titles of “The Giver of Life” and “Goddess of Magic”. Her best known story illustrated why she was simultaneously known as a creation goddess and a goddess of destruction and resurrection. After Seth murdered her husband, she searched the body out and with the aid of the Jackal headed Goddess Anubis. Also by turning herself into a hawk and conceiving Horus with the dead Osiris as well as bringing the child up so that he could dethrone Seth and restore the Maat, she represented the rejuvenation of the  Maat. The festivities surrounding the flooding of the Nile each year, originally named “The Night of the Tear-Drop” in remembrance of the extent of the Isis’ lamentation of the death of Osiris, her tears so plentiful they caused the Nile to overflow, is now celebrated annually by Egyptian Muslims and  is called “The Night of the Drop”. The goddess Isis was often represented by symbols associated with her distinctly feminine but courageous and persevere nature, or with her association with death and resurrection.  It is hardly surprising that many of the modern icons representing feminine strength and   passionate emotions, including the image of Madonna and Child in works of art, were derived from the ancient goddess symbols of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

On the other hand Osiris’ resurrection symbolized the annual regeneration of crops by the Nile flooding. He was the deity of rebirth in the Duat and Earth and was responsible for the new seasonal harvest. The cutting down of barley and wheat was related to the death of Osiris, while the sprouting of shoots was thought to be based on the power of Osiris to resurrect the farmland. In general rebirth analogies based on the vegetation cycle are viewed as the weakest elements in the death-rebirth analogies.  In a metaphorical note, just as crops appeared from the soil, the souls of the dead that wee reabsorbed in nature rose from the underworld. It was because of this very reason why barley seeds in Nile earth beds shaped as Osiris were placed in tombs, symbolizing the rebirth of the soul and the defying of death by Osiris.

 The sacred eye of Atum was also a symbol associated with rejuvenation. When Atum’s two children Shu and Tefnut drifted he dispatched his eye to search for them The eye successfully did so, restoring the children to Atum , thereby becoming a symbol of resurrection of both life and the world order. Another version was that Seth stole Horus’ eye – the Sun, plunging the world into perpetual darkness. Thoth scoured the Universe and restored the eye back to him thus bringing about the resurrection of the Maat.

Classical discourse on the subject of the phoenix points to a potential origin of the phoenix in Ancient Egypt.  The red and golden plumed Benu Bird of Heliopolis – the Egyptian counterpart of the Greek Phoenix rose from the egg of myrrah left in the death ashes of its predecessor, thereby symbolizing resurrection of the dead. However, the Egyptian sources regarding the benu were often problematic and open to a variety of interpretations.

SLIDE 8 – MYTHS OF LEGITIMIZATION

These myths were three types according to the purpose they serve – upholding the institution of divine kingship, preservation of “ Maat “ or social harmony and justification of the customs, traditions and practices of the time.

The ideology of “Divine Kingship” was promulgated rigorously through iconography, architecture and royal rites and rituals, all embodying the myth of Amun Re’s retirement from human affairs, because of which Ancient Egypt was popularly termed as the “ Land of the Priest King”.  Tradition spoke of the time when Amun Re’s old age and inability to manage his duties plunged the earth into chaos. An ashamed Amun Re migrated to Heaven but not before leaving behind an heir still unborn of a human womb to the care of Thoth, the God of Learning. Thoth was to preserve the divine order “Maat” until the son, capable in strength, skill and fecundity would assume the rein of the reign. Thoth dedicatedly went on with his duties, presenting the humans with the gift of writing and the moon – to create light in the night sky to maintain the “ Maat” at night. This was the reason why the festival of Opet was celebrated in the second month of the lunar calendar to honor the sexual union of the God and the current Pharaoh’s mother. The intercourse and the successive conceiving guaranteed the pharaoh’s mythical lineage, thus legitimizing his inheritance of the throne and the right to rule over commoners. In the later Kingdoms, when alive the Pharaoh was considered the mortal embodiment of the God Horus and after death he was recognized with the God Osiris. In many temple reliefs, he was portrayed drinking the milk of Isis as well as consummating Hathor, thereby reaffirming his identity. However the king enjoyed a restricted idea of divinity, he was vulnerable to fall prey to political elements beyond his control .i.e., assassination, usurpation and revolution because of which he was “plainly mortal” – very few rulers actually had their statues placed on temple shrines as objects of worship. The fact that the king could be both God and Priest was an indication of some of the contradictions of ancient Egyptian religion.

The institution of Kingship considered the Pharaoh to be immaculate in his duties. He was the link between the sacred and the profane who sustained a fruitful reciprocal relationship between men and Gods through his unique ritual role. Being the chief channel of power – strength – justice, he enjoyed supreme authority in the spheres of politics, administration and most importantly rituals. Every element of regalia, from the crowns and scepters to the titles and festivals celebrated his divinity. The king was the appointed judge of humanity, bringing upon the realization of righteousness and the annihilation of wrong. He was to pacify the deities by offering them worship and sacrifices and the priesthood serving the myriad cults were only delegates slaving for the Divine. He could control the clergy and could even dismiss them should they reject liberal reforms. No king of Egypt could take part in a military campaign that was anything but victorious. Royal smiting scenes in tomb decorations usually showed the king in the ritual pose holding a weapon over the head of his defeated enemy.

Maat was the ancient Egyptian Goddess who personified truth, harmony, and justice in the cosmos. Though she had very temples made in her honor; in primitive belief, both the formal appearance and the essential nature of the Kingdom’s political – social – economic system was fixed by her in an unchanging universal order and the network of relationships which linked the members of the Egyptian communities to each other as well as to foreign political – cultural units were part of the immutable order. And any deviation from her ethical command was thought to be damaging profoundly the socio – political fabric of Egypt. Since the king was the defender of the created order and conqueror of forces of chaos on earth, his death was a time of great cosmic danger since the malign forces of disorder (both supernatural and human) might take advantage of the transition to disrupt the established order. The failure to maintain the Maat would result in divine intervention by low Nile floods, famine, enemy incursions and complete chaos (Isfat). Hence accession and coronation of a new pharaoh was an essential life-saving affair, accompanied by a series of rituals with the purpose of restoring the Maat and reasserting Egypt’s place at the center of the cosmos. Because disorders were common during the Pharaoh’s death in the Old Kingdom Period, to ensure smooth succession and reduce the potential for dynastic intrigue, the custom of co-regency developed in the Middle and New Kingdoms.

Some myths also served to legitimize the existing socio – political scenario. The concept of “sibling spouses” developed from the Osiris – Isis myths – it was customary of a youth to marry his sister. The Osiris – Horus relationship idealized the father – daughter bond. The worship of Hathor had as a component a ritual praising the “blood of life” secreted by females, thus venerating the female ability to bleed without dying and procreation. The counter position of Seth – Osiris reflected the two evil and virtuous face of society. For instance, the triad of Osiris – Isis – Horus exalted the advantages and sanctity of a monogamous family whereas Seth associated with multiple mistresses, rapes and abdications became symbolic of the then social evils.

 SLIDE 9 – INFLUENCE OF MYTHS ON THE SOCIETY

  • STATE STRUCTURE – The State was headed by the Priest King with a multi layered bureaucracy and priestly class.
  • STATUS OF THE PHARAOH – the Pharaoh was divine, responsible for the preservation of Maat by exercising supreme authority in the Land.
  • RELATIONSHIP OF THE PHARAOH WITH THE MASSES – The populace never gained access to the Elite class. Based on the myths customs developed exalting the high duties and privileges of the circle surrounding the king. The Pharaoh maintained a close personal relation with the prominent nobles who were termer the “Treasurers of the God”.
  • PRIESTHOOD – At the commencement of the Old Kingdom period the priestly class was merely the clergy assisting the Pharaoh in state rituals and offerings. As rituals and temple endowments became more elaborate, the priesthood assumed a dominant position in the state hierarchy. From being mere regents of the king (“Servants of the God”) in ceremonial sacrifices, they became centralized professional religious elite, ratifying all religious – political decisions and appointments conducted by royal authority.
  • ANCESTRAL CULT – Though not as strong as the Ancestral Cult of Bronze Shang China, the Egyptians revered their ancestors. The Pharaoh himself had the duty of making funerary offerings to the transfigured dead and his ancestors.
  • SOCIAL HIERARCHY – The society was complexly stratified with the Pharaoh at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Priests and the nobles and finally by the masses.

SLIDE 10 – ROLE OF MYTHS BEHIND SOCIAL ADVANCEMENT

  • RELIGION – The myths shaped the structure of rituals, timing and the fundamental beliefs of the pagan religion. Because religion and society were two mingled concepts in that distant past, indirectly it could be claimed that the myths shaped the societal structures and the concerned norms of that distant past. For example the role of Maat in human life created continuity between religious – political actions and elite morality.
  • ADMINISTRATION – The Pharaoh was a divine entity possessing unquestionable authority. The state officials were also revered and offerings were made in the honor of their deceased souls.
  • AGRICULTURE – The myths influenced some methods of cultivation and even the crops sowed. For instance barley, because it was symbolic of Osiris’ rejuvenation was cultivated in abundance in the Old Kingdoms.
  • ASTRONOMY – The “Hour Priests” in observatories in temple roofs recorded the movement of constellations, timings of sunrise and sunset , the casting if the sky and the paths of planets to read the patterns of cosmic harmony – the essential content of the kingdom’s astrological calendar.
  • MUSIC – Hymns composed in the honor of the Deities and the Divine Pharaoh mostly spoke of theological and mythical tales. They formed an integral part of the ancient religion.
  • CALENDAR – The origin of the Egyptian Calendar had an interesting beginning. Nut and Geb‘s illicit affair and the consequent pregnancy angered Atum and he cursed Nut that she be allowed to give birth but not in any of the 360 days of the existing year. Thoth the God of wisdom came to her aid and in a game of droughts gambled 5 more days from the other Gods. In those 5 days, Nut gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seth and Nephthys. The calendar was divided by 4 seasons into 3 separate events – Akhet ( period of inundation), Peret (recession of floods) and Shemu (Harvest) but it did not accord with the reality of the solar calendar. The later depagomenal (luni – solar) days were added to give shape to the current year calendar. Ceremonial dates were set in accordance to the birthdays of Deities and the theological lucky – unlucky days. i.e., the day of a battle between two Gods was considered inauspicious.
  • MAGIC & MEDICINE – Magic was closely associated with the priesthood. Because temple libraries contained numerous magical texts, great magical knowledge was ascribed to the lector priests who studied these texts. These priests often worked outside their temples, hiring out their magical services to laymen. Other professions also commonly employed magic as part of their work, including doctors, scorpion-charmers, and makers of magical amulets. It is also likely that the peasantry used simple magic for their purposes, but because this magical knowledge would have been passed down orally, there is limited evidence of it. Language was closely linked with heka, to such a degree that Thoth, the god of writing, was sometimes said to be the inventor of heka. Therefore, magic frequently involved written or spoken incantations, although these were usually accompanied by ritual actions. Often these rituals invoked the power of an appropriate deity to perform the desired action, using the power of heka to compel it to act. Sometimes this entailed casting the practitioner or subject of a ritual in the role of a character in mythology, thus inducing the god to act toward that person as it had in the myth. Rituals also employed sympathetic magic, using objects believed to have a magically significant resemblance to the subject of the rite. The Egyptians also commonly used objects believed to be imbued with heka of their own, such as the magically protective amulets worn in great numbers by ordinary Egyptians.
  • ART & ARCHITECTURE – the myths provided the themes of many temple sculptures, tomb decorations, bas relief, pottery paintings, etc. The benben of the pyramids had their origin in the myth of the rising Re. The Egyptian esteem for the mound found its fullest expression in the construction of Pyramids. The pyramid was the representation of the primeval mound from which the dead monarchs could launch themselves, like the original sun God into the afterlife.
  • CRAFTSMANSHIP – The priests of Ptah controlled the so – called guilds of craft in Egypt.

SLIDE 11 – EVOLUTION OF COMPLEX MYTHS

According to Egyptologist Lewis Spence, the so called simple myths of the Early Old Kingdom of Egypt evolved into ones with complex themes and interconnected stories because of factors like internal strife, invasion and occupation of Egyptian territories by foreign tribes  and the fluctuations in the political and economic fortunes of the Kingdom. Also with political consolidation and molding of the hitherto scattered individual communities and cities into one unified domain , there was an intensification of commerce and administration – the economy grew stable and stronger with abundant harvests, trade flourished and raids – victorious battles brought rich booties, enriching the royal coffers. Better economic possibilities invited migration into Egypt; as people of different races poured in, Ancient Egypt witnessed a process of rapid cultural diffusion. The inhabitants of the upper social stratum benefited from the enhanced fortunes while the depressed classes were kept at a disadvantage – the consequence was an entrenched unequal socio – economic reality. The stark reality brought a change in the philosophical and religious setting of the country. Firstly, contradictory and less popular mythical beliefs were fused into a few tangled complex tales. The local deities of the cities which were at the helm of socio-economic supremacy rose to a dominant position in the Egyptian Pantheon assuming the status of “national” deities. For instance Amun the patron God of Thebes, the capital of Waset Egypt in 3200 BC headed the largest cult in the kingdom. The sexuality cult became popular – erotic tales involving new deities like Anat, Astarte, Qudshu, Bastet, Bal and Min entered the folktale scenario. Even reputed commoners were elevated to the status of Gods, for instance Imhotep, the vizier of King Djoser (3rd Dynasty) was deified as the “Son of Ptah” – the divine patron of craftsmen in Egypt. Changes became visible in the prevailing art and architecture – the structures of pyramids and temples changed, the art adorning them changed as well – scenes of daily life and of secular use became obscure an scenes exaggerated a belligerent essence. Also the Pharaoh – priesthood relationship changed. As rituals and temple endowments became more elaborate, the priesthood assumed a dominant position in the state hierarchy. From being mere regents of the king (“Servants of the God”) in ceremonial sacrifices, they became centralized professional religious elite, ratifying all religious – political decisions and appointments conducted by royal authority. Royal oracles that were instrumental in predicting “reassurances” of important issues of social mechanism, in the later period became petty means of making minor judicial or administrative decisions.

SLIDE 12 – PLACE IN RELIGION

Myths held a very special place in ancient Egyptian justify the sacred practices, rituals and beliefs of the ancient Egyptian culture. They set behavioral ethical standards that were mandatory for the maintenance of social order. Moreover they infused social unity and acted as stimulus to ceremonies and rituals all cajoling the supernatural for social welfare. Lastly the myths were expression of moral judgment and social equality in their own unique aspects.


Hi Friends! This was my Social – Formations project in my first semester of college, because back then this idea of an Egyptologist digging up cursed mummies and deciphering hieroglyphics meant the world to my fancy. Even now when I have moved to the more modern Tudor Era , fixing my obsession somewhat permanently to this radical epoch … I can assure you that the appeal of Ancient Egypt is as potent as ever! It is somewhat juvenile in content; as well as it might be wrong in some counts – please feel free to correct me…I have attached an MS Powerpoint Presentation for your convenience and hopefully for some, visual treat. This essay is strictly structured for the sake of a media presentation , and hence, the bluntness of language, that is sincerely regretted. The bibliography is provided in the last slide of the presentation. Enjoy.

With best wishes, Jhilam.

MYTHS & LEGENDS Egypt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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