Ancient Egypt Gods and Goddesses
Each ancient Egyptian god represented a different aspect of the world, from the sun to the earth to the sky. They provided balance and stability to the universe. The ancient Egyptian story of creation describes the first and most important gods and goddesses and their roles in the universe.
The ancient Egyptian story of creation
- The ancient Egyptians believed that before life on earth there was only Nun. This was the term they used to describe the only thing that existed — the dark waters of chaos. Nun was also associated with the edges of the universe. Nun was depicted by the Egyptians as a man carrying a ”bark” (a small boat).
- Out of Nun rose a hill or a mound of land. The hill was called Ben-Ben, which eventually turned into a pyramid shape. A sacred pyramid-shaped stone called the Ben-Ben stone derived its name from this mound — it was placed in the temple of Ra at Heliopolis and was positioned where the first morning rays of sunshine would hit it every day, symbolising the birth of a new day as the mound represented the birth of creation.
- On the Ben-Ben mound stood the first god in ancient Egyptian mythology, Atum. He was the creator, or father god, who all other gods and life followed from. The word atum represents “Perfection”, and he is depicted as a human god with two crowns.
- Atum created the next two gods — first there was Shu, the god of air, and then his twin Tefnut, the godess of moisture.
- Shu was born out of Atum’s nose on his breath, and was believed to have a calming nature. He was always depicted with an ostrich feather, which was a symbol of light.
- His twin sister Tefnut represented rain and dew. It was believed that she was spat out of Atum’s mouth. She is depicted as a human god with a lion head.
- Later in ancient Egyptian mythology, it was said that Tefnut and Shu argued — their disagreement was the cause of extreme weather that was disastrous for the Old Kingdom of Egypt. As a result of the argument, Tefnnut left Egypt and turned into a cat. Anyone who approached her was killed. She did eventually return, after being persuaded by another god, Thoth.
- The twin gods Tefnut and Shu had two children who were also gods. They were called Geb and Nut.
- Geb was the god of earth and Nut the goddess of the sky. Geb’s laughter brought about earthquakes and he had the power to make crops grow or fail. He was also known to be the father of snakes and is sometimes shown to have the head of a snake.
- His sister Nut is portrayed as a naked female figure covered in stars. She shelters the earth and in many pictures is literally covering her brother Geb, the god of the earth. She is sometimes shown as a cow, or as a ladder leading to the skies.
- Following their parents’ tradition of having children with their siblings, Nut and Geb had five offspring together — Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys and Horus.
- Osiris was the god of the dead, and of life, resurrection and the afterlife. He had green skin, and like his grandfather Shu, always wore an ostrich feather. His legs were also shown to be partly mummified. He was the king.
- Isis was a goddess who was worshiped by the Romans and Greeks in later years, but the ancient Egyptians were the first. She represented the perfect female — wife and mother. She was the queen.
- Set was the god of the desert — he was responsible for storms, chaos, disaster and violence. He is depicted as having an animal head which looks like a slender dog. In mythology, the story is told that Set killed and destroyed the body of his brother, Osiris. Isis put him back together and brought him back to life for a short time before he went back to the underworld. Set then became king.
- Nephthys’ name means “lady of the house” but that doesn’t mean she was a goddess of domestic matters or a housewife — she was revered as god of the temple. She was the protector of the dead and often believed to be the mother of the reigning pharaoh. She is depicted as having falcon wings or as a kite.
- Originally considered to be the son of Nut and Geb, Horus was later understood instead to be the son of Isis and Osiris. Sometimes the first one is known as Horus the Elder, and the second one as Horus the Younger. After Set killed Osiris and sent him into the underworld, Horus took revenge and took the title of King from Set, and Osiris became the king of the underworld.
These first gods were not the only gods in the ancient Egyptian belief system. They believed that the pharaoh kings of Egypt would ascend to become gods after they died. There were more than 200 gods in total.
Other important gods included:
- Thoth — the god of writing and knowledge
- Sobek — the crocodile god
- Ra — the sun god
- Montu — the warrior god
- Khnum — the god who protected the River Nile
To learn more about the Ancient Egyptians, see:
- Mummies – The Facts!
- Ancient Egypt Facts About Pyramids!
- Ancient Egypt Technology and Inventions!
- 10 Questions about Ancient Egypt.
- Important People in Ancient Egypt.
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Egypt’s Pharaohs.
- Important Events in Ancient Egypt
- 6 Famous Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt