A Brief Visual Guide to Ancient Egyptian Gods


The sun rises over the circular mound of creation as goddesses pour out the primeval waters around it. / Wikimedia Commons

Even today, the gods of Egypt loom large in the imagination, and are easily recognized by their iconic features.


By Arienne King


Introduction

This image gallery is a visual guide to the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. It includes depictions of many of Egypt’s more iconic and widely worshipped deities, along with brief descriptions of their roles in Egyptian religion. Each of Egypt’s gods filled an important role in the proper functioning of the cosmos. Elemental gods watched over everything from the annual flooding of the Nile to the solar and lunar cycles. Other gods and goddesses protected humanity from disease and dangerous animals or provided inspiration to craftworkers and physicians.

These deities permeated Egyptian culture and were frequent subjects of Egyptian art and literature. Many were depicted with distinctive attributes such as clothing and objects. They were also often associated with a specific animal or animals. For example, Anubis is recognizable by his jackal-head, while Hathor is known for her bovine horns. Even today, the gods of Egypt loom large in the imagination, and are easily recognized by their iconic features.

Atum: Universal Creator

Bronze coffin decoration depicting the god Atum as a coiled serpent. Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE). / Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain

Atum was the universal creator deity in Egyptian mythology. He willed himself into existence in the beginning, emerging out of the dark primordial waters (Nu) that existed before creation. Sitting upon the primordial mound, he felt loneliness and created the gods.

Shu: Air and Wind

Faience amulet depicting the Egyptian god Shu. 26th Dynasty, 664-525 BCE. / Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain

Shu was the god of air and wind, the first of the gods created by Atum. He was the consort of Tefnut, whom Atum created next. According to Egyptian mythology, Shu and Tefnut were created so that Atum would not be alone in existence.

Tefnut: Moist Air

Wall relief depicting Tefnut. Kom Ombo Temple. Ptolemaic Period. 180-47 BCE. / Photo by Rémih, Wikimedia Commons

Tefnut was the goddess of moisture and moist air and the sister-wife of Shu. Together, Shu and Tefnut had two children, the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut.

Geb and Nut: Earth and Sky

Detail of the Book of the Dead of Henuttawy, depicting the goddess Nut arched over the god Geb. Geb is depicted with the head of a snake. Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-525 BCE). / British Library, Creative Commons

Geb was the primordial god of the earth and the father of snakes. He fathered Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys with the goddess Nut.

Detail of the Funerary Papyrus of Tameni, depicting the god Geb and the goddess Nut. Egypt. Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-525 BCE). / British Museum, Creative Commons

Nut was the goddess of the sky and wife of Geb. She is frequently depicted as a woman whose body stretches from the eastern horizon to the western horizon.

The Ogdoad: Primordial Egg

The Ogdoad of Hermopolis, depicted on the ceiling of the Temple of Dendera. / Photo by kairoinfo4u, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Ogdoad were eight primordial deities who, according to some myths, existed before creation and hatched the world from a primordial egg. Each of the four pairs within the Ogdoad represented an aspect of creation; Heh and Hehut represented infinity, Nu and Nunet represented the primaeval waters from which the world emerged, Kek and Keket represented darkness, and Amun and Amunet represented obscurity and invisible power.

Ra Horakhty: The Sun

Relief from the Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens. Thebes, Egypt. 19th Dynasty (1292-1186 BCE). / The Yorck Project, Wikimedia Commons

Ra was the Egyptian god of the sun, often depicted with a falcon head. He was the creator and supreme ruler of all realms: the earth, the heavens and the underworld. Ra’s other main attribute was the solar-disk which represented the sun.

Ram of Amun

Statue from 25th Dynasty, c. 680 BCE. Kawa, Egypt. (Ashmolean Museum). / AHE, Creative Commons

Amun was the ruler of the sky in Egyptian mythology and at times considered to be king of the gods. Amun was originally depicted as a bearded man, before later being commonly depicted as a ram.

Amun-Ra

A relief depicting the fusion deity Amun-Ra, from the Tomb of Ramesses IX (r. 1129–1111 BCE) in the Valley of the Kings. Thebes, Egypt. / Photo by Morgan Schmorgan, Flickr, Creative Commons

Ra and Amun were eventually combined into the deity Amun-Ra, whose role was of central importance in Egyptian religion. As Amun-Ra, he appeared as a man with the solar-disk of Ra upon his head.4

Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Their Three Daughters

Relief depicting Akhenaten, Nefertiti (c. 1370 – c. 1336 BCE) and their three daughters seated under the God Aten and his rays. Amarna. New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1345 BCE. / Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, Neues Museum, AHE, Creative Commons

Aten was a solar deity worshipped during the Amarna Period. Aten was at the center of Atenism, a monotheistic religion promoted by Akhenaten (r. 1353-1336 BCE) which held Aten to be the one true god. Under Akhenaten, Atenism replaced the prominent cult of Amun and eclipsed all other gods. Atenism was considered a heresy in Egypt, and worship of Aten quickly faded after the death of Akhenaten.

Khonsu: The Moon

Part of a relief depicting Khonsu. Temple of Deir el-Hagar, Dakhla Oasis. 1st century CE, Roman Egypt. / Ancient World Image Bank, Flickr, Creative Commons

Khonsu was the Egyptian god of the moon. He was worshipped as part of the Theban Triad, which consisted of himself, his father Amun, and his mother Mut.

Mut: Primordial Mother

Limestone bust of Mut. New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, 1539-1076 BCE. “2018 Queens of Egypt Exhibit”. (Pointe-à-Callière Museum). / AHE, Creative Commons

Mut was a primordial mother deity, said to have existed before the creation of the world. She was usually considered to be the wife of Amun and mother of Khonsu, with whom she was worshipped in Thebes.

Theban Triad: Amun, Mut, and Khonsu

Bronze figures depicting Amun (left); the goddess Mut (right); and Khonsu (center). 25th-26th Dynasties, 700-600 BCE. / Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, State Museum of Egyptian Art (Munich), AHE, Creative Commons

The Theban Triad was widely worshipped in the area of Thebes during the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Apophis: Evil Serpent

Relief depicting Apophis being killed by “The great cat of Heliopolis”. From the Tomb of Inherkau no. 359. / Photo by kairoinfo4u, Flickr, Creative Commons

The serpent Apophis (also called Apep) was an evil figure in Egyptian mythology, as a force of chaos and the adversary of Ra.

Osiris: Judge of Souls

Wall painting from the Tomb of Sennedjem. 19th Dynasty (1292-1186 BCE). Deir el-Medina, Egypt. / Photo by Ignati, Wikimedia Commons

Osiris judged the souls of the dead and symbolized rebirth after death. He was usually depicted as a mummified pharaoh, with green or black skin to represent growth and fertility.

Isis: Patron of Women

Wall painting of Isis, c. 1360 BCE. / The Yorck Project, Wikimedia Commons

Isis was the patron goddess of women, magic, and healing. As the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, she was associated with queenship. Isis had a prominent role as protector of women and children. She was often depicted wearing a hieroglyph resembling a throne on her head.

Amun-Min: Fertility

Relief of Amun-Min from the Temple of Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE). / Photo by kairoinfo4u, Luxor Museum, Flickr, Creative Commons

Min was a fertility god worshipped from the Predynastic Period in Egypt onwards, making him one of the oldest Egyptian deities. The Min festival was celebrated in late summer to promote prosperity and bless the harvest. Min was often depicted with an erect phallus and black skin to represent fertility, as the black soil along the Nile river banks was exceedingly fertile.

Horus: Kingship

Statue from the Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst (State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich) / AHE, Creative Commons

Horus was the son of Osiris in Egyptian mythology. He was associated with the Pharaoh and represented divine kingship. He was often depicted as a falcon or a falcon-headed figure.

Set: Chaos

Statue from Medinet Habu, Egypt. 20th Dynasty, early 12th century BCE. / Photo by Tutincommon, Egyptian Museum (Cairo), Flickr, Creative Commons

Set was a complicated figure in Egyptian mythology, associated with chaos, storms, violence, and deserts. He was originally the defender of Ra but later became an antagonist in Egyptian mythology. In a defining myth, Set conspired to kill his brother Osiris so that he could usurp the throne. Set was depicted with the head of a red animal with a long, curved face.

Nephthys: Magic and Protection

Faience amulet statue. Late Period of Ancient Egypt, 664-332 BCE. / Photo by Rama, Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons

Nephthys was associated with magic and protection like her sister Isis, and the two are frequently depicted together as twins. She was the wife of Set and gave birth to Anubis after tricking Set’s brother Osiris into lying with her.

Anubis: Afterlife

Relief from the necropolis at Deir el-Medina. Thebes, Egypt. 1279-1213 BCE. / Photo by Jean Robert Thibault, Flickr, Creative Commons

Anubis was the god of mummification and the afterlife, responsible for guiding lost souls to the Duat. One of Egypt’s oldest gods, he is easily recognizable for his black jackal-head.

Ptah: Handiwork

Relief from the Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens. Thebes, Egypt. 19th Dynasty (1292-1186 BCE). / Photo by kairoinfo4u, Flickr, Creative Commons

Ptah was a god of creators, the patron deity of craftworkers and architects. He was typically depicted with the green skin and carried the was-sceptre which represented power, creation and stability.

Hathor: Queenship

Relief of Hathor facing Horembheb, from Horembheb’s tomb, Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt, c. 1300 BCE. / Photo by Mary Harrsch, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Flickr, Creative Commons

Hathor was one of the most important goddesses in ancient Egypt, associated with queenship, fertility, love and celebration. Hathor was often depicted as a cow or a human woman wearing the horns of a cow.

Khnum: Creator of Man

A painting of Khnum standing between the twin goddesses Isis and Nephthys. From the Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens, Thebes. 19th Dynasty (1292-1186 BCE). / Photo by radiowood, Flickr, Creative Commons

Khnum was one of Egypt’s oldest creator gods. According to some myths, he shaped humanity from clay. He is often depicted with the head of a ram.

Ma’at: Law and Order

Sarcophagus lid of Ramesses III (1186-1155 BCE). / Photo by genibee, Louvre Museum, Flickr, Creative Commons

Ma’at was the personification of truth, harmony, order, and justice in Egyptian cosmology. She was both a goddess and a concept, which underpinned Egyptian beliefs about the proper functioning of the universe. Ma’at was often depicted as a winged female figure.

Thoth: Science and Wisdom

Relief from the Temple of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE), Abydos. / Photo by Olaf Tausch, Wikimedia Commons

Thoth, the god of wisdom, science, and magic. He was traditionally depicted with the head of an ibis, a wetland bird native to Egypt. Some depictions of Thoth portrayed him as a baboon or with the head of a baboon on a human body.

Seshat: Language and Writing

Relief depicting Seshat. 13th century BCE, Luxor Temple. / Photo by Jon Bodsworth, Wikimedia Commons

Seshat was the goddess of the written word and the inventor of language in Egyptian mythology. She was the consort of Thoth and is often depicted wearing a leopard-skin and holding a palm stem in her head. Seshat is recognizable by the seven-pointed symbol topped by a crescent above her head.

Sekhmet: Duality of Destruction and Protection

Granodiorite statue of Sekhmet. Reign of Amenhotep III (c. 1386-1353 BCE). / Photo by Roberto Venturini, Egyptian Museum (Turin), Flickr, Creative Commons

Sekhmet was a fierce goddess depicted with the head of a lioness. She was associated with both destruction and protection, vengeance and mercy, plague and healing. One of the most important myths involving Sekhmet describes her being sent by her father Ra to punish mankind for their sins, stopping short of destroying humanity only once Ra himself intervened.

Montu: War

Relief depicting the Egyptian war-god Montu, from his temple in el-Tod. 11th Dynasty (c. 2115-1991 BCE). / Photo by kairoinfo4u, Louvre Museum, Flickr, Creative Commons

Montu was an Egyptian war god, associated with conquest and military prowess. He was often depicted with the head of a falcon or bull.

Neith: War and Creation

A gilded bronze statuette of Neith. Late Period of Ancient Egypt, 664-332 BCE. / Photo by Mbzt 2012, Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons

Neith was worshipped in Egypt from the Predynastic Period until the rise of Christianity. She was originally a war goddess who eventually evolved into a creator goddess in later periods of Egyptian history.

Hapi: Agriculture

The upper part of a black granite statue of Hapi. Faiyum, Egypt. Middle Kingdom. c. 1800 BCE. / Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, Neues Museum, AHE, Creative Commons

Hapi was a fertility god, responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile, which ensured that vital nutrients were returned to the soil. To symbolize fertility, Hapi was depicted as an androgynous man with wide hips and pendulous breasts.

Bes: Home Protector

Statue of Bes. Roman Egypt, 1st century CE. / Photo by Carole Raddato, Museuo Barracco, Flickr, Creative Commons

Bes was the protector of households, women, and children. He was invoked to protect women in childbirth by warding off evil. Bes was usually depicted as a dwarf in statues and protective amulets.

Taweret: Protector

Blue faience statue of Taweret. 332-30 BCE. / Metropolitan Museum of Art, Creative Commons

Taweret was a protector deity who, like Bes, was associated with childbirth and fertility. Taweret was depicted as an upright female hippopotamus, often with some feline and human attributes.

Serket: Animal Protector

Bronze statue of Serket. Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE). / Photo by NeferTiyi, Egyptian Museum of Barcelona, Flickr, Creative Commons

Serket was a protector goddess and the goddess of venomous animals. She was strongly associated with scorpions and was invoked by physicians to help cure patients of poisons.

Apis: Harmony and Stability

Life-size basalt statue from Alexandria. / Photo by Carole Raddato, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Apis Bull was worshipped in Egypt as the incarnation of a god, associated with stability, harmony and fertility. The Apis Bull was identified by specific markings on its body, after which it was taken to the temple of Ptah in Memphis. At different points in Egyptian history, Apis was associated with Hathor, Ptah and Osiris.

Wepwawet and Seti I

Relief of Wepwawet embracing Seti I (1290-1279 BCE). Temple of Seti, Abydos. / Photo by kairoinfo4u, Flickr, Creative Commons

Wepwawet was a war god, often depicted as either a wolf or a jackal. He was associated with Anubis, as both assisted the souls of the dead in reaching the Duat and were similar in appearance.

Ammit: The Underworld

A detail from the Papyrus of Ani, an Egyptian Book of the Dead, showing Ammit sitting behind Thoth. Tomb of Ani, Thebes. c. 1250 BCE. / British Museum, Creative Commons

Ammit was an underworld god, and a somewhat demonic figure in Egyptian mythology, as she meted out the punishment to the souls of the unrighteous after death. If the dead were judged deserving of punishment by the gods, Ammit would consume their heart. She was made up of the three most dangerous animals in Egypt, with the head of a crocodile, the forequarter of a lion or leopard, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.

Wadjet and Nekhbet: The “Two Ladies”

A limestone relief depicting a vulture and a rearing cobra perched on a basket. Early Ptolemaic Period c. 305-250 BCE. / Walters Art Museum, Public Domain

Nekhbet and Wadjet were known as the “Two Ladies”, representing Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt respectively. Nekhbet was represented by a white vulture, while Wadjet was represented by a cobra. Together, they were a symbol for the unification of Egypt.


Originally published by the Ancient History Encyclopedia, 10.06.2020, under a Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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