Studies in Egyptian Mythology
by E. A. Wallis Budge | 1904 | 170,388 words
Volume 1-16 chapters including The Gods of Egypt, Primitive Gods and Nome-Gods, Hell and the Damned, Ra the Sun-God and His Forms, Hathor and the Hathor-Goddesses, The Horus Gods, and more. Includes 49 plates, 38 illustrations....
Among the various branches of Egyptology which have been closely studied during the last twenty-five years, there are none which are more interesting to inquire into, or more difficult to understand fully, than the religion and mythology of the inhabitants of the Valley of the Nile. When we consider the number of works on these subjects which have been written and published, both by expert Egyptologists and by competent exponents of the science of religion during that period, such a statement may appear at first sight to be paradoxical, and many may think when reading it that some excuse must certainly be made for the philosopher who asked an eminent professor of Egyptology the somewhat caustic question,
“Is it true that the more the subjects of Egyptian religion and mythology are studied the less is known about them ?”
The question is, however, thoroughly justified, and every honest worker will admit that there are at the present time scores of passages, even in such a comparatively well-known religious compilation as the Book of the Dead, which are inexplicable, and scores of allusions of a fundamentally important mythological character of which the meanings are still unknown. The reasons for this state of things are many, and the chief of them may be briefly recalled here.
The custom of relying absolutely upon the information about the ancient Egyptian religion and mythology, which is reported by Greek historians, was abandoned by Egyptologists long ago, for as soon as the native Egyptian religious texts could be read, it became evident that no Greek or Latin writer had any exact first-hand knowledge of these subjects, and that none of them succeeded wholly in reproducing accurately in their works the facts concerning them which they derived from Egyptian books or from Egyptian priests.
This is hardly to be wondered at, for the cultured Greek writers must have, and did, as we know, look with mingled pity, and contempt, and ridicule, upon the animal cults of the Egyptians, and they had no sympathy with the materialistic beliefs and with the still more materialistic funeral customs and ceremonies, which have been, from time immemorial, so dear to certain Hamitic peoples, and so greatly prized by them. The only beliefs of the Egyptian religion which the educated Greek or Roman truly understood were those which characterized the various forms of Aryan religion, namely, the polytheistic and the solar; for the forms of the cults of the dead, and for all the religious ceremonies and observances, which presupposed a belief in the resurrection of the dead and in everlasting life, and which had been in existence among the indigenous inhabitants of north-east Africa from predynastic times, he had no regard whatsoever.
The evidence on the subject now available indicates that he was racially incapable of appreciating the importance of such beliefs to those who held them, and that although, as in the case of the Ptolemies, he was ready to tolerate, and even, for state purposes, to adopt them, it was impossible for him to absorb them into his life. It is important to remember this fact when dealing with the evidence of Greek and Roman writers on the Egyptian religion and mythology, for it shows the futility of trying to prove an absolute identity in the indigenous religions of the Aryans and Egyptians.
Now, although a true decipherment of the ancient Egyptian hieratic and hieroglyphic texts has enabled us to draw our in formation on the religion and mythology of Egypt from native sources, we have still to contend against the ignorance of Egyptian scribes and the mistakes of careless copyists, and it must never be forgotten that the theologians at the court of the Pharaohs under the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties were just as ignorant of many facts connected with their religion and mythology as we ourselves are. In proof of this it is sufficient to refer to the different explanations of certain passages which are given along with the text in the xviith Chapter of the Book of the Dead, and to the childish punning etymologies of the names of gods and of many mythological explanations which are set down in the texts inscribed on the walls of some chambers in the tomb of Seti I. at Thebes, and on the walls of the temple of Horus of Beḥuṭet at Edfû.
It is satisfactory to be able to say that many of the absurd etymologies and trivial explanations which are products of the scribes of old can now be corrected. Recent researches have shown that the royal scribes under the New Empire (B.c. 1700-700) were unable to read correctly the hieratic characters which formed the names of some of the kings of the early Archaic Period, and this being so, little surprise need be felt at the difficulties in religious texts which are due to their ignorance or blunders. Apart from such considerations, however, the subjects of Egyptian religion and mythology themselves are full of inherent difficulties, which have, unfortunately, not been lessened by the manner in which some Egyptologists have treated them.
The number of the gods, even under the IVth Dynasty, about B.C. 3600, was very great, and as time went on it multiplied greatly. The Pyramid Texts, which were written under the IYth, Yth and VIth Dynasties, supply the names of about two hundred gods and mythological beings, but in the Book of the Dead according to the Theban Recension (b.c. 1700-1200) over five hundred gods are mentioned. If to these be added the names of all the mythological beings which occur in the various Books of the Underworld, we shall find that the number of the gods who were recognized by the theologians of the XIXth Dynasty at Thebes was about twelve hundred.
If all the religious texts of this period from all the religious centres of Egypt were available for study, we should certainly find that the names of hundreds of additional local gods, goddesses, and mythological beings could be collected from them. With such a number of gods to consider, it was impossible for confusion not to arise in the mind of the Egyptian when dealing with them, and the texts prove that he found the gods as difficult to group and classify as the modern investigator.
The attributes of hundreds of them were vague and shadowy, and the greater number of them were merely provincial gods, to whom circumstances had given some transient importance, which resulted in their names being recorded in writing. In fact, the theologian of ancient Egypt found it impossible to form a system of gods which should be consistent in all its parts, and should assign to earth gods, water gods, air gods, village gods, city gods, nome gods, national gods, and foreign gods, the exact position and attributes which were their due in it. From one point of view the modem investigator is more fortunate than the Egyptian theologian, for he has more materials upon which to work, and, as a rule, he is better equipped for his inquiry. The Egyptian knew nothing about the study of comparative religion, and he was sadly hampered by his own methods.
Modern scientific study of the Egyptian religion and mythology may be said to have begun with the publication in full of the texts, both hieratic and hieroglyphic, of the Heliopolitan, Theban, and Saïte Recensions of the Book of the Dead (Per-em-hru), and of the cognate funeral texts, such as
- “The Book of what is in the Underworld,”
- “The Book of Breathings,”
- “The Book of Transformations,”
- the “Lamentations,”
- and the “Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys,” &c.
The first to attempt to build up on a large scale a system of Egyptian theology and mythology from ancient native works was the late Dr. Heinrich Brugsch, who collected and published in his Religion und Mythologie der alten Ægypter, Leipzig, 1885-1888, a mass of facts of the greatest importance, and a summary of the conclusions which he deduced from them. In the same year in which the first section of Dr. Brugsch’s work appeared, M. Maspero published in the Revue des Religions (tom. xii., p. 123 f.) a masterly article, entitled La Religion Égyptienne d'après les pyramides de la Ve et de la VIe dynastie, in which he gave to the world some of the results of his study of the “Pyramid Texts,” which contain the oldest known Recension, i.e., the Heliopolitan, of the Book of the Dead.
In 1887, Signor Lanzone published the last part of his Dizionario di Mitologia Egizia, which is one of the most valuable contributions to the study of Egyptian mythology ever made, and which contains the names of a large number of gods, demons, spirits, etc., arranged alphabetically, and a series of drawings of many of them printed in outline in red ink. In 1888 and 1889, M. Maspero, in two admirable articles in the Revue des Religions (La Mythologie Égyptienne, tom. xviii., p. 253 f., and tom. xix., p. 1 f.), discussed and criticized both the works of Brugsch and Lanzone, and shed a great deal of new light upon the facts collected in both.
To M. Maspero belongs the credit of being the first to consider the Egyptian religion and mythology from the anthropological point of view, and all the evidence on these subjects which has since become available goes to prove the general correctness of the opinion which he stated some fifteen or sixteen years ago.
Brugsch, it must be admitted, regarded the origin of Egyptian religion from too lofty a metaphysical and philosophical standpoint, and appealed for proofs of his contentions to Egyptian texts belonging to too late a period to be entirely free from the influence of Greek culture and thought; in fact, he read into certain Egyptian texts, ideas, doctrines, and beliefs which the primitive and indigenous Egyptians could never have possessed. On the other hand, it seems to me that M. Maspero has somewhat underrated the character of the spiritual conceptions of the dynastic Egyptians, and that he has done so because, when he wrote his great article, La Mythologie Égyptienne, Egyptologists had not thoroughly realized the distinction which exists between the primitive or predynastic element in the Egyptian religion and the Asiatic element.
This element was of a solar character undoubtedly, and was introduced into Egypt by the “Followers of Horus,” or the “Blacksmiths,” who invaded the country, and conquered the natives, and settling down there, built up the great dynastic civilization which we call Egyptian. This seems to be the correct explanation of the diversity of view of two such eminent experts, and the opposite character of their conclusions appears to be due chiefly to the difference of the standpoints from which they viewed the subject.
A prolonged study of the religious and mythological texts of ancient Egypt has convinced me of the futility of attempting to reconcile the conflicting beliefs and to harmonize the contradictory statements which are found in them, so long as we regard the Egyptian religion as “one in its extension and principle.” It must first of all be resolved into its constituent elements, and when this has been done, it will probably be possible to classify, and arrange, and assign to their proper sources the various material and spiritual conceptions and beliefs which the Egyptians heaped up in their minds and flung together in their religious writings.
It must, moreover, be studied by the light which the science of comparative religion has given us, and due regard must be paid to the important evidence on the subject that may be deduced from the remains and monuments of the Predynastic and Archaic Periods which have been unearthed during the last few years.
The primitive dwellers in Egypt undoubtedly belonged to a large and important section of the inhabitants of North-East Africa, and possessed physical and mental characteristics which were peculiar to themselves. In the earliest times they were savages, and lived and died like savages in other parts of the world ; religious belief of any kind, in the modern sense of the term, they had none, and they probably regarded the animate and inanimate objects which they saw about them as akin to themselves.
At a much later period they peopled the earth, air, sky, and water with beings of various kinds, and they paid a sort of homage or worship to certain stones, trees, and living creatures, in which they assumed that they lived. Some beings were held to be friendly and others unfriendly ; and it was thought that gifts or offerings would secure the continuance of the friendship of the former and avert the hostility of the latter. Friendly beings gradually became gods, and unfriendly ones were classed as devils, and in the ceremonies which the Egyptian savage performed in their honour, and in the incantations which he recited, the magic of Egypt, the forerunner of her religion, had its origin.
The chief object of the savage Egyptian was self-preservation, and selfinterest was the mainspring of his actions, all of which were undertaken with a view to material benefits. When he first becomes known to us in the late Neolithic Period we find that he possessed a belief in an existence beyond the grave, and that it was of a material character is proved by the fact that he placed offerings of food in the graves of the dead. To prevent their return to this world, and their consequent claim for food and other material things, the heads of the dead were often severed from their bodies, and their feet cut off; thus the living made themselves secure in the possession of their homes, and wives, and goods.
Nothing is known of the Egyptian religion and its ceremonies at this period, but whatever they were, it is pretty certain that the object of them all was to secure for themselves after death a renewal of life which should be full of carnal delights and pleasures, and there is no doubt that the ideas of a resurrection from the dead and immortality on these lines were firmly implanted in the native mind long before the Dynasty Period began.
The cult of Osiris, the dead man deified, and the earliest forms of his worship, were, no doubt, wholly of African origin ; these are certainly the oldest elements in the religion of the Dynastic Period, and the most persistent, for Osiris maintained his position as the god and judge of the dead from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaïc Period.
The Followers of Horus, who brought a solar religion with them into Egypt from the East, never succeeded in dislodging Osiris from his exalted position, and his cult survived undiminished notwithstanding the powerful influence which the priests of Rā, and the worshippers of Ȧmen, and the votaries of Ȧten respectively exercised throughout the country.
The heaven of Osiris was believed to exst in a place where the fields were fertile and well stocked with cattle, and where meat and drink were abundant; the abodes of the blessed were thought to be constructed after the model of the comfortable Egyptian homesteads in which they had lived during life, and the ordinary Egyptian hoped to live in one of these with his wives and parents.
On the other hand, the followers of Rā, the sun-god, believed in a heaven of a more spiritual character, and their great hope was to occupy a seat in the boat of the god, and, arrayed in light, to travel whithersoever he went. They wished to become bright and shining spirits, and to live upon the celestial meat and drink upon which he lived ; as he was so they hoped to be in every respect. The materialistic heaven of Osiris appealed to the masses in Egypt, and the heaven where Rā lived to the priests of Rā and other solar gods, and to royal and aristocratic families, and to the members of the foreign section of the community who were of Eastern origin.
The various waves of religious thought and feeling, which swept over Egypt during the five thousand years of her history which are known to us, did not seriously disturb the cult of Osiris, for it held out to the people hopes of resurrection and immortality of a character which no other form of religion could give. Secure in these hopes the people regarded the various changes and developments of religious ideas in their country with equanimity, and modifications in the public worship of the gods, provided that the religious feasts and processions were not interrupted, moved them but little.
Kings and priests from time to time made attempts to absorb the cult of Osiris into religious systems of a solar character, but they failed, and Osiris, the man-god, always triumphed, and at the last, when his cult disappeared before the religion of the Man Christ, the Egyptians who embraced Christianity found that the moral system of the old cult and that of the new religion were so similar, and the promises of resurrection and immortality in each so much alike, that they transferred their allegiance from Osiris to Jesus of Nazareth without difficulty.
Moreover, Isis and the child Horus were straightway identified with Mary the Virgin and her Son, and in the apocryphal literature of the first few centuries which followed the evangelization of Egypt, several of the legends about Isis and her sorrowful wanderings were made to centre round the Mother
of Christ. Certain of the attributes of the sister goddesses of Isis were also ascribed to her, and, like the goddess Neith of Saïs, she was declared to possess perpetual virginity. Certain of the Egyptian Christian Fathers gave to the Virgin the title “Theotokos,” or “Mother of God,” forgetting, apparently, that it was an exact translation of neter mut, , a very old and common title
of Isis. Interesting, however, as such an investigation would be, no attempt lias been made in this work to trace out the influence of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and mythology on Christianity, for such an undertaking would fill a comparatively large volume.
From what has been said in the preceding pages the plan followed in the preparation of the present volumes will be evident. In the opening chapter an attempt has been made to describe the religious beliefs of the primitive Egyptians, and to explain how their later ideas about the “gods” and God grew up, and how they influenced the religious writings and paintings of the Dynastic Period. The region which is commonly called Heaven, or the “Underworld,” and its denizens are next considered at some length, and this section is followed by chapters on the ancient myths of Rā, the legend of Rā and Isis, and the legend of the destruction of mankind. The hieroglyphic texts of the myths and legends are given with interlinear transliteration and translation, so that the student may verify my statements for himself.
Of the minor gods and demons, of which nothing but the names are known, lists only are printed. The great gods of Egypt have been grouped as far as possible, and they are discussed in connection with the various religious centres to which they belong, e.g., Ptaḥ, Sekhet, and I-em-ḥetep with Memphis, Ȧmen, Mut, and Khensu with Thebes, and the “Great Company” of the gods with Heliopolis. Speaking generally, the first volume of this work treats of the oldest and
greatest gods and triads of gods of Egypt, and the second, of the gods of Heliopolis, among whom are included Osiris and the deities of his funeral cycle. The hymns to the gods have been freely quoted, because they illustrate so clearly the views which the Egyptians held concerning them, and the manner in which they sought to praise them. In a chapter entitled “Miscellaneous Gods” will be found several lists of gods of the hours, days, months, winds, Dekans, etc., which I have collected from Dr. Brugsch’s Thesaurus of astronomical and other texts; for the main facts given in these volumes the authorities, both ancient and modern, will be found at the foot of the pages wherein they are first mentioned.
Most of the portraits of the gods which appear in the coloured plates have been reproduced from papyri, coffins, etc., but for the outlines of a few I am indebted to Signor Lanzone’s Dizionario Mitologia Egizia, the value of which has been already mentioned. It has been thought advisable to print the portraits of the gods which are not taken from papyri upon a papyrus-coloured ground, and to enclose each within a coloured border, for the effect is better, and the plan is consistent with that followed by the ancient Egyptian artists at all periods.
My thanks are due to Reginald Lake, Esq., of Messrs. Gilbert & Rivington, and to Mr. G. E. Hay and Mr. F. Rainer, of his staff, for the care and attention which they have taken in printing this work.
E. A. WALLIS BUDGE.
London, September 5th, 1903.