The ancient Egyptians worshipped numerous gods and goddesses. A result of the unification of the country’s many territories. Unfortunately, they are now considered remnants and images of a past civilization that lived thousands of years ago. Even so, there were a few of the divine, despite any good intentions, you wouldn’t what to meet first hand. Not in this life, or in the next. Here are the top five Egyptian gods you don’t want to cross:
Taweret (also known as Tawret, Taueret, Tawaret, Taurt, Thoeris and Toeris, Ipy, Ipet, Apet, Opet, and Reret) was often depicted as a hippopotamus standing on her hind legs with the paws of a lion and the back of a crocodile. The three most feared and highly respected wildlife species in ancient Egypt. Considered dangerous and potentially a malignant force, Taweret was first associated to be the demon-wife of Apep (the serpent god of darkness), representing all the evil that occurred during the day while her husband represented the evil that occurred at night.
However, despite her demons ties and her affairs with Set (god of chaos), the ancient text describe Taweret as being loyal to the goddess Isis and her son Horus. Especially when she used her influence over Set to detain him in the northern night sky and prevented him from attacking Isis and her new baby just after her husband’s death. Later in the Old Kingdom, Taweret was considered more a protector rather than an aggressive force and became a mother goddess, a household deity, and the patron of childbirth.
Ammit (also known as Ammut and Ahemait) was the ancient goddess of divine retribution. Her image was a combination of wildlife that ancient Egyptians’ feared and respected: the head of a crocodile, the torso of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.
As depicted in the Book of the Dead, she often sat by the scales of Ma ‘at, ready to devour the hearts of those deemed unworthy. This experience was known as “dying a second time,” and those who had undergone it were known as “the dead.” Unlike the akhs, the souls who are deemed worthy and who cross over into Osiris’s realm, the dead were condemned to wander Duat forever without rational thought, emotion, or true life.
To insure innocent souls did not meet this fate, the Book of the Dead instructs the deceased through a negative confession (i.e. a list of sins which they had not done during their life) to 42 gods before their heart was weighed against the feather of Ma ‘at. In which case, it was not necessary to be totally good, but reasonably balanced.
Sekhmet (or Sakhmet) is one of the oldest known Egyptian deities. Her name is often translated as “Powerful One” and is referred to as “The Eye of Ra.” However, her main cult centered in Memphis worshipped her as “the destroyer.” Her task was to destroy the enemies of her father, Ra, and her image was depicted as a woman with the head of a lioness.
A creative and destructive force, Sekhmet was the protector of Ma ‘at, and mostly associated with the myth “The Destruction of Humankind.” When Ra was king of both the divine and the mortal realms, he learned about a plot of a human rebellion against him and the order which he placed in Ma ‘at. As punishment, Ra sent his daughter, Sekhmet, to wage war on humanity. Sekhmet slaughtered thousands until the fields of Egypt were covered in human blood. After a day of massacre, and Ra had saw the extent of her destruction, he felt enough damage had been done and called his daughter to his side.
Unfortunately, Sekhmet hadn’t obeyed. She had become so consumed with blood lust, she was ready to wipe out the rest of mankind. In finding a way to restrain her appetite, Ra ordered 7,000 jugs of beer to be stained with red ochre and poured over the fields the surround her. Sekhmet gorged on the “blood,” ignoring the people of Egypt and became drunk. She fell asleep for three days. When she awoke, her blood lust had dissipated, and thus, humanity was saved.
To commemorate the event, every year a feast was thrown in Sekhmet’s honor, where everyone drunk beer stained with red ochre and worshipped “The mistress and lady of the tomb, gracious one, destroyer of rebellion, mighty one of enchantments.”
Set (also known as Seth, Setekh, Sut, Sutekh, Sety, and even Baal in certain text) was the deity of chaos and confusion, and had been worshipped since the Predynastic Amratian period (4000-3500 BC). He is the son of Geb and Nut, and brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys. He is most often depicted as the “Set animal,” a creature similar to the jackal. Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether it represented a specific species that is now extinct or merely a mythological beast. In other texts, Set as a man was thought to have white skin and red hair, inspiring the Egyptian belief that anyone born with red hair was one of his followers.
Even at birth, Set was dangerous and unpredictable, having ripped himself violently from his mother’s womb. When he grew older, he married his younger sister, Nephthys, and obtained several other wives and concubines including Taweret, Apep’s demon-wife, and two foreign goddesses, Anat and Astarte (war goddesses of the Syria-Palestine region), who were given to him by Ma ‘at as compensation for Horus’s rule over Egypt.
Set was most known for the murder of his brother, Osiris (god of the underworld). When Osiris was made Pharaoh of Egypt, and after finding Nephthys had tricked Osiris into having sex with her, Set devised a plan to kill his brother. He held a great feast in Osiris’s honor, offering a beautiful carved casket to whomever fit into it. Of course, the casket was built specifically for Osiris, and when he laid in the box, Set’s followers nailed the lid shut. After which, Set dismembered the corpse and scattered the parts across the country.
Despite his role in the Osirian myth, Set was also referred to as the defender of the sun god, Ra. Each night, while the solar barge was on its journey through Duat, Set fought off the evil serpent Apep. However, even in these tales, his negative side was apparent. He was often described as boasting about triumphs against Apep, and even threatened Ra that if he wasn’t treated with respect, he would bring storms against the sun god. Ra eventually tired of his taunting and expelled Set from his barge.
Apep (also known as Aapep, Apepi, and Apophis) was the ancient spirit of evil, darkness, and destruction. His image was that of a huge serpent with tightly compressed coils to emphasize his large size. He was also the only god who was truly immortal and did not require any nourishment. Nor could he be completely destroyed, only temporarily defeated.
Each night, at the seventh hour, he threatened to destroy the sun god, Ra, as he travelled through Duat. Originally, Set and Mehen were given the job of defending Ra and his solar barge, cutting a hole in the serpent’s belly to allow Ra to escape. Later, after Set was expelled, other gods and even pharaohs took on this responsibility with the knowledge that failure meant the world would be plunged into darkness.
To defeat this force, a ritual was conducted annually by the priests of Ra. An effigy of Apep was taken into the temple and infused with all the evil of the land. It was then beaten, crushed, and burned. Other rituals involved a wax model of Apep which was ritually dismembered and the burning of a papyrus image of the serpent.
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- Oakes, L., and Gahlin, L. (2003). Ancient Egypt: An illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the pharaohs. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
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- Wilkinson, P. (2009). Myths & Legends: An illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. New York, New York: Metro Books