Stuffe & Nonsense Lore: Egyptian Gods

Anubis Egyptian God thumbnail
Anubis (jnpw)
Bast Egyptian Goddess thumbnail
Bastet (b3stt)
Hathor Egyptian Goddess thumbnail
Hathor (ht-hrw)
Horus Egyptian God thumbnail
Horus (hrw)
Khnum Egyptian God thumbnail
Khnum (khnwm)
Sekhmet Egyptian Goddess thumbnail
Sekhmet (skhmt)
Set Egyptian God thumbnail
Set (sth)
Sobek Egyptian God thumbnail
Sobek (sbk)
Thoth Egyptian God thumbnail
Thoth (djhwty)

This Stuffe & Nonsense Lore page only discusses a few of the primary Egyptian gods, mainly those normally represented as animals or as a combination of human and animal -- as anthropomorphic figures. The ancient Egyptian religion developed over more than 3 millennia and there are a lot of Egyptian gods! The number of Egyptian gods is probably comparable to the number of Christian saints. And like saints, the Egyptian gods were associated with specific geographic areas, different human activities, and individual iconography.

Wall painting of Khepri from the tomb of Nefertari
Depicting deities as animal-headed people has led to some strange constructs. Snake-headed gods can look extremely odd, as the "neck" of the snake does not match well to the human body. Nor does Thoth's ibis neck really fit to human shoulders. But carefully rendered headdresses can do a lot to hide such problems. The frog-headed deities have the opposite problem with necks too broad to fit a human frame, unless rendered like Kermit the pencil-necked frog. Heket the fertility goddess is usually shown simply as a frog, but can be a woman with a frog's head. And Nun the god of primordial waters could be represented with a frog head complete with beard; the beard could help hide the neck, I guess. But the strangest construct is Khepri, who has a scarab beetle as a head. No neck at all, the beetle just rests above the shoulders.

Marble statue of Anubis from Anzio, Villa Pamphili, 1st-2nd century CE. (From the Vatican Museum)
By the Roman era, statues of the gods were made in quite realistic format, which makes them look very strange and out-of-place. You just don't imagine Anubis in a Greek or Roman tunic. At least we think he looks pretty odd this way.

Geographic divisions and shifing political boundaries are reflected in the gods. Upper and Lower Egypt each had specific guardian deities. Wadjet, the goddess of Lower Egypt, was shown as a cobra or cobra- headed woman. Nekhbet of Upper Egypt was a vulture or a woman with the head of a vulture. These goddesses were the origin of the cobra and vulture on the royal diadem. Egypt was divided into provinces, or nomes, and these nomes each had their own protectors and favored deities. Certain cities were connected with certain gods, for example Sekhmet at Memphis, Horus at Hierakonpolis, and Amun at Thebes. Over centuries, gods shifted in importance as the social, political or economic importance of different regions changed. The gods of powerful regions would gain more worshippers, temples and attention as the power of that region grew. Amun of Thebes gained magnificent temples and a dominant position in the pantheon while Thebes was the capital for many years. Less-favored local gods could be forgotten or could have their attributes subsumed by a more popular regional deity.

The powers and responsibilities attributed to different gods also changed over time. So there are multiple sun gods and multiple water gods and multiple fertility gods, all with overlapping responsibilities for different geographic areas or different aspects of their spheres. Isis is a mother goddess, but so are Mut and Hathor. Wepwawet, Montu and Anhur were all war gods. Powerful gods could accumulate alternate names associated with their different aspects. Foreign gods could be imported and subsumed as aspects of Egyptian gods, as when Hauron, Anhur and others became aspects of Horus.

The common names now used for the major gods are Greek, since it was the early Greek travellers like Herodotus who conveyed Egyptian history to Western cultures. The Hellenistic rule of the Ptolemies was another source for the Greek names we know for Egyptian cities as well as gods. Thus Anpu is known as "Anubis", Djehuti is "Thoth", Hor is changed to "Horus". The vowels in our modern spellings are mostly a matter of opinion, as hieroglyphs do not include vowels, hence "Ra" or "Re" are the same, as are "Amon" or "Amun" (in hieroglyphs he's actually jmn).

So a detailed study of any one of the major gods becomes a complex mesh of references from various times and places through Egyptian history. The same god can be called by several names and might be represented by different animals. Or the iconography of different gods can be so similar that they are nearly indistinguishable. One animal may personify several different gods. Bast as well as Sekhmet may be depicted as a lioness. A cow might be Neith or Hathor. Amun as well as Khnum appears as a ram. The Egyptians did not worship animals or statues, nor think their gods were animals, any more than Christians think the Lamb of God was literally a lamb. The animals represented characteristics associated with the god. A god could perhaps choose to manifest in an animal, as in an Apis bull or in a sacred crocodile at Khom Ombo. But the animal or statue was just a home for the god as the human body was a home for the ka and the ba.

Writings from the Egyptian religious tradition are at the heart of virtually every magickal and/or hermetic society of Western tradition. The theosophists, rosicrucians and many others have initiated much good research ... and added layers of obfuscation. Some modern pagans carry on a version of the ancient religion, as for example at Kemetic Orthodoxy: Egyptian religion today.

Bibliography of Egyptology references used in these Stuffe & Nonsense Lore Pages.

Egyptian god statuettes from Stuffe & Nonsense

Anubis Egyptian God Statuette
Anubis (anpu)
Bast Egyptian Goddess statuette
Bast (bast)
Hathor Egyptian Goddess Statuette
Hathor (het-heru)
Horus Egyptian God statuette
Horus (hor)
Khnum Egyptian God thumbnail
Khnum (khnwm)
Sekhmet Egyptian Goddess statuette
Sekhmet (sekhmet)
Set Egyptian God statuette
Set (set)
Sobek Egyptian God thumbnail
Sobek (sobek)
Thoth Egyptian God thumbnail
Thoth (djehuti)