The Gods of the Egyptians Vol 1

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....

Chapter II - Conception Of God And The "gods"

The texts in the pyramids of Unȧs and Tetȧ and their immediate successors prove that the religious literature of the Egyptians contains a multitude of beliefs and opinions which belong to all periods of their history, and represent different stages in the development of their civilization. Their ideas about the various parts which constitute their material, and mental, and spiritual existences cannot have been conceived all at once, but it is very hard to say in respect of some of them which came first.

We need not trouble about the order of the development of their ideas about the constituent parts of the gods, for in the earliest times, at least, the Egyptians only ascribed to them the attributes which they had already ascribed to themselves; once having believed that they possessed doubles, shadows, souls, spirits, hearts, (i.e., the seats of the mental life), names, powers, and spiritual bodies, they assigned the like to the gods. But if the gods possessed doubles, and shadows, and hearts, none of which, in the case of man, can exist without bodies, they too must possess bodies, and thus the Egyptians conceived the existence of gods who could eat, and drink, and love, and hate, and fight, and make war, and grow old, and die, and perish as far as their bodies were concerned.

And although the texts show that in very early times they began to conceive monotheistic ideas, and to develop beliefs of a highly spiritual character, the Egyptians never succeeded in abandoning the crude opinion about the gods which their indigenous ancestors had formed long before the dynastic period of their history. It is, of course, impossible to assume that educated classes of Egypt held such opinions, notwithstanding the fact that religious texts which were written for their benefit contain as great a mixture of views and beliefs of all periods as those which were written for humbler folk.


Beliefs In Immortality

The Book of the Dead in all dynasties proves that the rich and the poor, and the educated and the uneducated alike prayed for funeral offerings in the very Chapters in which they proclaimed their sure belief in an existence in which material things were superfluities.  In the texts of the Early Empire the deceased is declared to be a god, or God, and the son of god, or God, and the oldest god of all,  Horus, gives him his eye, and he sits on a great throne by the side of God ; yet in the same texts we read that he partakes of the figs and wine of the gods, that he drinks beer which lasts for ever, that he thirsts not like the gods Shu and Tefnut, and that the throne of God is made of iron, that its legs terminate in hoofs like those of bulls, and that its sides are ornamented with the faces of lions. [1]

The great god Horus gives him his own “double” (ha), and yet there are in heaven enemies who dare to oppose the deceased; and although he is declared to be immortal, “all the gods give him of their food that he may not die,” and he sits down, clothed in white linen and wearing white sandals, with the gods by the lake in the Field of Peace, and partakes with them of the wood (or, tree) of life on which they themselves live that he also may live.

Though he is the son of God he is also the child of Sothis, and the brother of the Moon, and the goddess Isis becomes his wife ; though he is the son of God we are also told that his flesh and his bones have been gathered together, that his material body has been reconstructed ; that his limbs perform all the functions of a healthy body; and as he lives as the gods live we see that from one point of view he and the o:ods are constituted alike.

Instances of the mixture of spiritual with material ideas might be multiplied almost indefinitely, and numbers of passages containing the most contradictory statements might be adduced almost indefinitely to prove that the ideas of the Egyptians about the world beyond the grave, and about God and the gods were of a savage, childish, and inconsistent character. What, however, we have to remember in dealing with Egyptian religious texts is that the innate conservatism of the Egyptian in all ages never permitted him to relinquish any belief which had once found expression in writing, and that the written word was regarded by him as a sacred thing which, whether he believed it not, must be copied and preserved with great care, and if possible without any omission or addition whatsoever.

Thus religious ideas and beliefs which had been entirely forgotten by the people of Egypt generally were preserved and handed down for thousands of years by the scribes in the temples. The matter would have been simple enough if they had done this and nothing more, but unfortunately they incorporated new texts into the collections of old ones, and the various attempts which the priests and scribes made to harmonize them resulted in the confusion of beliefs which we now have in Egyptian religious works.


Composite Animal-gods

Before we pass to the consideration of the meaning of the old Egyptian name for god and God, i.e., “neter,” mention must be made of a class of beings which were supposed to possess bodies partly animal and partly human, or were of a composite character.

Image right 1: The serpent-headed leopard Setcha.

Image right 2: The eagle-headed lion Sefer.

Among the latter class may be mentioned the creature which has the body of a leopard and the head and neck of a serpent, and was called “Setcha,” [2]; and that which has the body of a lion, from which grow a pair of wings, and the head of an eagle, and is called “Sefer,”[3] and that which has a body, the fore part being that of a lion, and the hind part that of a horse, and the head of a hawk, and an extended tail which terminates in a flower somewhat resembling the lotus.




Image right: The fabulous beast Saḳ.

The name of this creature is Saḳ,, and she is represented with a collar round her neck, and with bars and stripes on her body, which has eight teats.[4]

Image right: A fabulous leopard.

Among creatures, part animal part human, may be mentioned the leopard, with a human head and a pair of wings growing out of his back,[5] and the human - headed lion or sphinx.  

The winged human head which springs from the back of the leopard[6] strongly reminds one of the modern conventional representations of angels in religious pictures, but as the name of this fabulous creature is unknown, it is impossible even to guess at the reasons for which he was furnished with a winded man’s head.

In connexion with the composite animals enumerated above must be mentioned the “Devourer of Ȧmenti,” called “Ām-mit, the Eater of the Dead,” whose forequarters were those of a crocodile, and hindquarters those of a hippopotamus, and whose body was that of a lion,


Image right: The animal Sha.

The tombs at Beni-hasan, in Avhich the figures of the Setcha, the Sefer, and the Sak are depicted, date from the XIIth Dynasty, about B.C. 2500, and there is no reason for supposing that their existence Avas not conceived of long before that time. Side by side with these is also depicted an animal called Sha,, which has long square ears, and an extended tail resembling an arrow, and in its general appearance it much resembles the animal of the god Set.

Two explanations of the existence of such composite creatures may be given. They may be due either to the imagination of the Egyptians, which conceived of the existence of quadrupeds wherein were united the strength of one animal and the wisdom or cunning of another, e.g., the Setcha which united within itself the strength of the leopard with the cunning of the serpent, and the nameless leopard with a man’s winged head, or to the ignorance of the ancients of natural history.

The human head on an animal represented the intelligence of a man, and the wings the swift flight of the bird, and the body of the leopard the strength and the lithe motions of that animal. In conceiving the existence of such creatures the imagination may have been assisted in its fabrication of fabulous monsters by legends or stories of pre-dynastic animals which were current in certain parts of Egypt during the dynastic period.

Thus, as we have said before, the monster serpents of Egyptian mythology have their prototypes in the huge serpents which lived in the country in primeval times, and there is no doubt that Āpep was, originally, nothing more than a huge serpent which lived in some mountain on the western bank of the Nile. On the other hand, it is possible that the Egyptians really believed in the existence of composite animals, and that they never understood the impossibility of the head and neck of a serpent growing out of the body of a lion, or the head of a hawk out of the body of a lion, or a human head with the wings of a bird out of the body of a leopard.

They were keen enough observers of the animals with which they came in contact daily, and their representations of them are wonderful for the accurate delineation of their forms and characteristics; but of animals which they had never seen, and could only know from the reports of travellers and others, naturally they could not give accurate representations. Man in all ages seems prone to believe in the existence of composite animals and monsters, and the most cultured of the most ancient nations, e.g., the Egyptians and the Babylonians, form no exception to the rule.

The early seal-cylinders of the Babylonians reveal their belief in the existence of many a fabulous and mythical animal, ai.d the boundary stones, or landmarks, of a later period prove that composite animals were supposed to watch over the boundaries of kingdoms and estates, which they preserved from invasion, and the winged man-headed bulls, which the Assyrians set up in the gates and doorways of their palaces to “protect the footsteps of the kings who made them,” indicate clearly that they duly followed the examples set them by their kinsmen, the Babylonians.

From the Assyrians Ezekiel probably borrowed the ideas which he developed in his description in the first chapter of his book of the four-faced and four-winged animals. Later, even the classical writers appeared to see no absurdity in solemnly describing animals, the existence of which was impossible, and in declaring that they possessed powers which were contrary to all experience and knowledge.

Horapollo, i. 10, gravely states that the scarabaeus represents an only begotten, because the scarabaeus is a creature self-produced, being unconceived by a female, μονογενές μεν οτι αντογενες εστι το ζώον, νπο θηλείας μη κνοφορονμενον; and in one form or another this statement is given by

Ælian (De. Nat. Animal., iv. 49),
Aristotle (Hist. An., iv. 7),
Porphyry (De Abstinentia, iv. 9),
Pliny (Nat. Hist., xi. 20 ff.),

Of the man-headed lion at Gîzeh, i.e., the Sphinx, Pliny, Diodorus, Strabo, and other ancient writers have given long descriptions, and all of them seem to take for granted the existence of such a creature.

The second explanation, which declares that composite animals are the result of the imagination of peoples who have no knowledge, or at all events a defective one, of the common facts of natural history is not satisfactory, for the simple reason that composite animals which are partly animal and partly human in their powers and characteristics form the logical link between animals and man, and as such they belong to a certain period and stage of development in the history of every primitive people. If we think for a moment we shall see that many of the gods of Egypt are closely connected with this stage of development, and that comparatively few of them were ever represented wholly in man’s form.

The Egyptians clung to their representations of gods in animal forms with great tenacity, and even in times when it is certain they cannot have believed in their existence they continued to have them sculptured and painted upon the walls of their temples ; curiously enough, they do not seem to have been sensible of the ridicule which their conservatism brought down upon them from strangers.


The Word Neter

We have already said above that the common word given by the Egyptians to God, and god, and spirits of every kind, and beings of all sorts, and kinds, and forms, which were supposed to possess any superhuman or supernatural power, was neter, , and the hieroglyph which is used both as the determinative of this word and also as an ideograph is .

Thus we have

or ,



, or , or , or ,


the plural is sometimes written out in full, e.g., . The common word for “goddess” is netert, which can be written , or , or ; sometimes the determinative of the word is a woman, , and at other times a serpent, e.g. . The plural is neterit, . We have now to consider what object is supposed to be represented by , and what the word neter means.

In Bunsen’s Egypt’s Place (i., Nos. 556, 557, 623) the late Dr. Birch described as a hatchet; in 1872 Dr. Brugsch placed[7]  among “objets tranchants, armes,” in his classified list of hieroglyphic characters ; thus it is clear that the two greatest masters of Egyptology consideredto be either a weapon or a cutting tool, and, in fact, assumed that the hieroglyphic represented an axe-head let into and fastened in a long wooden handle. From the texts wherein the hieroglyphics are coloured it is tolerably clear that the axe-head was fastened to its handle by means of thongs of leather.

The earliest axe-heads were made of stone, or flint or chert, and later of metal, and it is certain that when copper, bronze, and iron took the place of stone or flint, the method by which the head was fastened to the handle was considerably modified.

Recently an attempt has been made to show that the axe,, resembled in outline

“a roll of yellow cloth, the lower part bound or laced over, the upper part appearing as a flap at the top probably for unwinding. It is possible, indeed, that the present object represents a fetish, e.g., a bone carefully wound round with cloth and not the cloth alone.”[8]

But it need hardly be said that no evidence for the correctness of these views is forthcoming. Whether the hieroglyphicwas copied from something which was a roll of cloth or a fetish matters little, for the only rational determination of the character is that which has already been made by Drs. Birch and Brugsch, and the object which is represented byis, in the writers opinion, an axe and nothing else.


The Axe A Symbol Of God

Mr. Legge has collected[9] a number of examples of the presence of the axe as an emblem of divinity on the megaliths of Brittany and in the prehistoric remains of the funeral caves of the Marne, of Scandinavia, and of America, and, what is very much to the point, he refers to an agate cylinder which was published by the late Adrien de Longpérier, wherein is a representation of a priest in Chaldaean garb offering sacrifice to an axe standing upright upon an altar.

Mr. Legge points out

“that the axe appears on these monuments not as the representation of an bject in daily use, but for religious or magical purposes,”

and goes on to say that this is proved by the

“fact that it is often found as a pendant and of such materials as gold, lead, and even amber; while that it is often represented with the peculiar fastenings of the earlier flint weapon shows that its symbolic use goes back to the neolithic and perhaps the palaeolithic age.’"

He is undoubtedly correct in thinking that the use of the stone axe precedes that of the flint arrow-head or flint knife, and many facts could be adduced in support of this view. The stone tied to the end of a stick formed an effective club, which was probably the earliest weapon known to the predynastic Egyptians, and subsequently man found that this weapon could be made more effective still by making the stone flat and by rubbing down one end of it to form a cutting edge.

The earliest axe-head had a cutting edge at each end, and was tied by leather thongs to the end of a stick by the middle, thus becoming a double axe ; examples of such a weapon appear to be given on the green slate object of the archaic period which is preserved in the British Museum[10] (Nos. 20,790, 20,792), where, however, the axe-heads appear to be fixed in forked wooden handles. In its next form the axe-head has only one cutting edge, and the back of it is shaped for fastening to a handle by means of leather thongs. When we consider the importance that the axe, whether as a weapon or tool, was to primitive man, we need not wonder that it became to him first the symbol of physical force, or strength, and then of divinity or dominion.

By means of the axe the predynastic Egyptians cut down trees and slaughtered animals, in other words, the weapon was mightier than the spirits or gods who dwelt in the trees and the animals, and as such became to them at a very early period an object of reverence and devotion. But besides this the axe must have been used in sacrificial ceremonies, wherein it would necessarily acquire great importance, and would easily pass into the symbol of the ceremonies themselves. The shape of the axe-head as given by the common hieroglyphicsuggests that the head was made of metal when the Egyptians first began to use the character as the symbol of divinity, and it is clear that this change in the material of which the axe-head was made would make the weapon more effective than ever.

Taking for granted, then, that the hieroglyphicrepresents an axe, we may be sure that it was used as a symbol of power and divinity by the predynastic Egyptians long before the period when they were able to write, but we have no means of knowing what they called the character or the axe before that period. In dynastic times they certainly called it neter as we have seen, but another difficulty presents itself to us when we try to find a word that will express the meaning which they attached to the word ; it is most important to obtain some idea of this meaning, for at the hase of it lies, no doubt, the Egyptian conception of divinity or God.


The Word Neter

The word neter has been discussed by many Egyptologists, but their conclusions as to its signification are not identical. M. Pierret thought in 1879 that the true meaning of the word is

“renewal, because in the mythological conception, the god assures himself everlasting youth by the renewal of himself in engendering himself perpetually.”[11]

In the same year, in one of the Hibbert Lectures, Renouf declared that he was

“able to affirm with certainty that in this particular case we can accurately determine the primitive notion attached to the word,”

i.e., to nutar (neter). According to him,

“none of the explanations hitherto given of it can be considered satisfactory,”

but he thought that the explanation which he was about to propose would

“be generally accepted by scholars,”

because it was

“arrived at as the result of a special study of all the published passages in which the word occurs.”[12]

Closely allied to nutar (neter) is another word nutka (netra), and the meaning of both was said by Renouf to be found in the Copticor, which, as we may see from the passages quoted by Tatham in his Lexicon (p. 310), is rendered by the Greek words,, and.

The primary meaning of the word appears to be “strong,” and having assumed that neter was equivalent in meaning to this word, Renouf stated boldly that neter signified “mighty,” “might,” “strong,” and argued that it meant Power, “which is also the meaning of the Hebrew El.” We may note in passing that the exact meaning of “El,” the Hebrew name for God, is unknown, and that the word itself is probably the name of an ancient Semitic deity.

The passages which were quoted to prove that neter meant “strong, strength, power,” and the like could, as M. Maspero has said,[13] be explained differently.

M. Maspero combats rightly the attempt to make “strong” the meaning of neter (masc.), or neterit (fem.), in these words:

“In the expressions

‘a town neterit,
‘an arm neteri,’ ....

is it certain that

‘a strong city,’
‘a strong arm,’

gives us the primitive sense of neter?

When among ourselves one says

‘divine music,’
‘a piece of divine poetry,’
‘the divine taste of a peach,’
‘the divine beauty of a woman’

[the word] divine is a hyperbole, but it would be a mistake to declare that it originally meant ‘exquisite’ because in the phrases which I have imagined one could apply it as

‘exquisite music,’
‘a piece of exquisite poetry,’
‘the exquisite taste of a peach,’
‘the exquisite beauty of a woman.’

Similarly in Egyptian

‘a town neteriť

is a

‘divine town’;


‘an arm neteri’


‘a divine arm,’

and neteri is employed metaphorically in Egyptian as is [the word] ‘divine’ in French, without its being any more necessary to attribute to [the word] neteri the primitive meaning of ‘strong,’ than it is to attribute to [the word] ‘divine’ the primitive meaning of ‘exquisite.’

The meaning ‘strong’ of neteri, if it exists, is a derived and not an original meaning.” [14]

The view taken about the meaning of neter by the late Dr. Brugsch was entirely different, for he thought that the fundamental meaning of the word was

“the operative power which created and produced things by periodical recurrence, and gave them new life and restored to them the freshness of youth (die thätige Kraft, welche in periodischer Wiederkehr die Dinge erzeugt und erschafft, ihnen neues Leben verleiht und die Jugendfrische zurückgiebt.”[15]

The first part of the work from which these words are quoted appeared in 1885, but that Dr. Brugsch held much the same views six years later is evident from the following extract from his volume entitled Die Aegypto-iogie (p. 166), which appeared in 1891. Referring to Renouf’s contention that neter has a meaning equivalent to the Greek , he says,

“Es liegt auf der Hand, dass der Gottesname in Sinne von Starker, Mächtiger, vieles fur sich hat, um so mehr als selbst leblose Gegenstände, wie z. B. ein Baustein, adjektivisch als nutri d. h. stark, mächtig, nicht selten bezeichnet werden.

Aber so vieles diese Erklärung für sich zu haben schient, so wenig stimmt sie zu der Thatsache, dass in den Texten aus der besten Zeit (XVIII Dynastie) das Wort nutr als ein Synonym für die Vorstellung der Verjungung oder Erneuerung auftritt.

Es diente zum Ausdruck der periodisch wiederkehrenden Jugendfrische nach Alter und Tod, so dass selbst dem Menschen in den ältesten Sarginschriften zugerufen wird, er sei fortan in einen Gott d. h. in ein Wesen mit jugendlicher Frische umgewandelt.

Ich lasse es dahin gestellt sein, nach welcher Richtung hin die aufgeworfene Streitfrage zu Gunsten der einen oder der anderen Auffassung entschieden werden wird; hier sei nur betont, dass das Wortnutr, nute, den eigentlichen Gottesbegriff der alten Aegypter in sich schliesst und daher einen ganz besonderen Aufmerksamkeit werth ist”

In this passage Dr. Brugsch substantially agrees with Pierreťs views quoted above, but he appears to have withdrawn from the position which he took up in his Religion und Mythologie, wherein he asserted that the essential meaning of neter was identical with that of the Greek {PLAATJE_NOG_UITSNEIDEN} and the Latin “natura.” [16]

It need hardly be said that there are no good grounds for such an assertion, and it is difficult to see how the eminent Egyptologist could attempt to compare the conceptions of God formed by a half-civilized African people with those of such cultured nations as the Greeks and the Romans.

The solution of the difficulty of finding a meaning for neter is not brought any nearer when we consider the views of such distinguished Egyptologists as E. de Rouge, Lieblein, and Maspero. The first of these in commenting on the passage (variant, which he translates “Dieu devenant dieu (en) s’engendrant lui-même,” says in his excellent Ohrestomathie Égyptienne (iii. p. 24),

“One knows not exactly the meaning of the verb miter, which forms the radical of the word nuter, ‘god.’ It is an idea analagous to to ‘become’ or ‘renew oneself,’ for nuteri is applied to the resuscitated soul which clothes itself in its immortal form.”

Thus we find that one of the greatest Egyptologists thinks that the exact meaning of neter is unknown, but he suggests that it may have a signification not unlike that proposed by Pierret. Prof. Lieblein goes a step further than E. de Rouge, for he is of opinion that it is impossible to show the first origin of the idea of God among any people hitherto known historically.

“When we, for instance, take the Indo-Europeans, what do we find there? The Sanskrit word deva is identical with the Latin deus, and the northern tivi, tivar; as now the word in Latin and northern language signifies God it must also in Sanskrit from the beginning have had the same signification.

That is to say, the Arians, or Indo-Europeans, must have combined the idea of God with this word, as early as when they still lived together in their original home. Because, if the word in their pre-historic home had had another more primitive signification, the wonder would have happened, that the word had accidentally gone through the same development of signification with all these people after their separation. As this is quite improbable, the word must have had the signification of God in the original Indo-European language.

One could go even farther and presume that, in this language also, it was a word derived from others, and consequently originated from a still earlier pre-historic language. All things considered it is possible, even probable, that the idea of God has developed itself in an earlier period of languages, than the Indo-European. The future will perhaps be able to supply evidence for this.

The science of languages has been able partly to reconstruct an Indo-European pre-historic language. It might be able also to reconstruct a pre-historic Semitic, and a pre-historic Hamitic, and of these three pre-historic languages, whose original connexion it not only guesses, but even commences to prove gradually, it will, we trust in time, be able to extract a still earlier pre-historic language, which according to analogy might be called Noahitic.

When we have come so far, we shall most likely in this pre-historic language, also find words expressing the idea of God. But it is even possible that the idea of God has not come into existence in this pre-historic language either. It may be that the first dawning of the idea, and the word God should be ascribed to still earlier languages, to layers of languages so deeply buried that it will be impossible even to excavate them.

Between the time of inhabiting caves in the quaternian period, and the historical kingdoms, there is such a long space of time, that it is difficult to entertain the idea, that it was quite devoid of any conception of divinity, so that this should first have sprung up in the historical time. In any case we shall not be able to prove historically where and when the question first arose, who are the superhuman powers whose activity we see daily in nature and in human life.

Although the Egyptians are the earliest civilized people known in history, and just therefore especially important for the science of religion, yet it is even there impossible to point out the origin of the conception of the deity. The oldest monuments of Egypt bring before us the gods of nature chiefly, and among these especially the sun.

They mention, however, already early (in the IVth and Vth Dynasties) now and then the great power, or the great God, it being uncertain whether this refers to the sun, or another god of nature, or if it was a general appellation of the vague idea of a supernatural power, possibly inherited by the Egyptians. It is probably this great God indicated on the monuments, from the the IVth Dynasty, and later on, who has given occasion to the false belief that the oldest religion of the Egyptians was pure monotheism.

But firstly, it must be observed, that lie is not mentioned alone but alongside of the other gods, secondly, that he is merely called ‘The great God,’ being otherwise without distinguishing appellations, and a God of whom nothing else is mentioned, has, so to speak, to use Hegel’s language, merely an abstract existence, that by closer examination dissolves into nothing.”

[17] [wisdomlibrary: this location of this note was missing, i think it belongs to the above quote]

It is necessary to quote Professor Lieblein’s opinion at length because he was one of the first to discuss the earliest idea of God in connection with its alleged similarity to that evolved by Aryan nations ; if, however, he were to rewrite the passage given above in the light of modern research he would, we think, modify many of his conclusions. For our present purpose it is sufficient to note that he believes it is impossible to point out the origin of the conception of the deity among the Egyptians.

The last opinion which we need quote is that of M. Maspero, who not only says boldly that if the word neter or netri really has the meaning of “strong” it is a derived and not an original meaning, and he prefers to declare that the word is so old that its earliest signification is unknown. In other words, it has the meaning of god, but it teaches us nothing as to the primitive value of this word. We must be careful, he says, not to let it suggest the modern religious or philosophical definitions of god which are current to-day, for an Egyptian god is a being who is born and dies, like man, and is finite, imperfect, and corporeal, and is endowed with passions, and virtues, and vices.[18]

This statement is, of course, true as regards the gods of the Egyptians at several periods of their history, but it must be distinctly understood, and it cannot be too plainly stated, that side by side with such conceptions there existed, at least among the educated Egyptians, ideas of monotheism which are not far removed from those of modern nations.

From what has been said above we see that some scholars take the view that the word neter may mean “renewal,” or “strength,” or “strong,” or “to become,” or some idea which suggests “renewal,” and that others think its original meaning is not only unknown, but that it is impossible to find it out. But although we may not be able to discover the exact meaning which the word had in predynastic times, we may gain some idea of the meaning which was attached to it in the dynastic period by an examination of a few passages from the hymns and Chapters which are found in the various versions of the Book of the Dead.

In the text of Pepi I. (line 191) we have the words:—

“Behold thy son Horus, to whom thou hast given birth. He hath not placed this Pepi at the head of the dead, but he hath set him among the gods neteru,”


Now here neteru,, must be an adjective, and we are clearly intended to understand that the gods referred to are those which have the attribute of neteru; since the “gods neteru,”, are mentioned in opposition to “the dead” it seems as if we are to regard the gods as “living,” i.e., to possess the quality of life. In the text of the same king (line 419) a bȧk neter,, i.e., a hawk having the quality of neter is mentioned;and in the text of Unȧs (line 569) we read of baui netrui,, or the two souls which possess the quality of neter.

These examples belong to the Vth and VIth Dynasties. Passing to later dynasties, i.e., the XYIIIth and XIXth, etc., we find the following examples of the use of the words neter and netri:—


netri netri,


of eternity,
utet se-mes su tchesef
begetting and giving birth to himself.
ṭa-ȧ tu em ȧb-ȧ
I am devoted in my heart



O thou netri

more than
the gods.
tcheṭ - tu re pen ḥer
Shall be said this chapter over

a crown

4. [22]
neter - ḳua
I have become neter.
ȧu - ȧ khā - kuȧ
I have risen up


the form of a hawk
āb - kuȧ
I have become pure,

neter - kuȧ
I have become neter,

khu - kuȧ
I have become a spirit (lhu),

user - kuȧ
I have become strong,
ba - kuȧ
I have become a soul (ba).
His being
(or, he shall be)



neteru the gods

in the
Neter-khertet Neter-khertet.
ȧu - f
He shall


his body
They make


ba - k
thy soul


the house of
netri - ƒ
He makes neter

ba - k
thy soul

the gods.


kheper tchesef
primeval matter.


Now, in the above examples it is easy to see that although the words “strong” or “strength,” when applied to translate neter or netri, give a tolerably suitable sense in some of them, it· is quite out of place in others, e.g., in No. 6, where the deceased is made to say that he has acquired the quality of neter, and a spirit, and a soul, and is, moreover, strong; the word rendered “strong” in this passage is user, and it expresses an entirely different idea from neter.

From the fact that neter is mentioned in No. 1 in connection with eternal existence, and self-begetting, and self-production, and in No. 11 with self-production and primeval matter, it is almost impossible not to think that the word has a meaning which is closely allied to the ideas of “self-existence,” and the power to “renew life indefinitely,” and “self-production.” In other words, neter appears to mean a being who has the power to generate, life, and to maintain it when generated.

It is useless to attempt to explain the word by Coptic etymologies, for it has passed over directly into the Coptic language under the forms nouti , and noute , the last consonant, r, having disappeared through phonetic decay, and the translators of the Holy Scriptures from that language used it to express the words “God” and “Lord.” Meanwhile, until new light is thrown upon the subject by the discovery of inscriptions older than any which we now have, we must be content to accept the approximate meaning of neter suggested above.


The Primitive God

The worship of the gods (neteru), which began far away back in predynastic times, continued through the archaic and dynastic periods, and lasted until the IVth or Vth century of our era; it is tolerably certain that in respect of some of them the ideas of the Egyptians never changed, but, as regards others, their views did not remain as constant as some writers would have us imagine. In the earliest days every village community in Egypt had its local god, who shared the good or evil fortune of the community to which he belonged.

His emblem or symbol was carried out to war, and was, of course, present at all great public gatherings when matters connected with the welfare of his devotees were discussed. A special habitation was set apart for him, and its upkeep was provided for out of common funds. As the riches of the people of the village increased, the rank and dignity of their god kept pace with them, but his revenues suffered in times of scarcity, and defeat, and war; his emblem might even be carried off into captivity and burnt, or smashed, when, of course, the spirit which dwelt in his symbol was also destroyed.

The number of such early gods was legion, for many large communities possessed several gods, each of which was famed locally for some particular attribute. When a man left one village and settled in another he took his god or gods with him, but he would be obliged to acknowledge the god of the village or city in which he had made his new abode, and to contribute towards the maintenance of his house and its small compound.

The reduction in the number of the gods of Egypt began when man first realized that certain gods were mightier than others, for he ceased gradually to worship those who had, in his opinion, failed to justify his belief in them, and transferred his allegiance to the gods who were able to give him the most help. In process of time the god or goddess of a certain village or town would obtain a fame and reputation for power which would outrival those of the deities of the neighbouring cities, and the growth of the worship of such god or goddess would be accompanied by a corresponding decline in that of the gods in the towns round about.

The gods, in the first instance, grew by a process of selection out of the spirits who were well disposed towards man and were helpful to him, and the “great gods” of the Egyptians were evolved, practically, in a somewhat similar manner. It is at present hopeless to attempt to enumerate all the gods who were, from first to last, worshipped by the Egyptians, for it will not be possible to do this until every text extant has been published.

Meanwhile an examination of the earliest Egyptian religious literature known to us proves that a number of gods who were of some importance in the polytheistic system of the Early Empire dropped out from it long before the period of the New Empire, and thus it is very doubtful if we shall ever be able to collect the names of all the gods who have been worshipped in the Valley of the Nile between the Archaic and Roman periods, whilst to make a list of all the predynastic gods is manifestly impossible.


Selection Of Gods

Future discoveries in Egypt may produce texts that will tell us which were the favourite gods in the archaic period and give us some idea as to the pronunciation of their names, for we have reason to think that during the greater part of that period the Egyptians were able to write. If ever such texts are brought to light we shall probably find that the gods who were worshipped during the archaic period were those who were popular in the predynastic period, just as we find that the gods of the Egyptians of the Middle and New Empires were to all intents and purposes the same as those of the Egyptians of the Early Empire.

Speaking generally, it may be said that the Egyptians of the greater part of the dynastic period of their history invented few new gods, and that they were well content to worship such deities as were known to their ancestors ; we know that they admitted, at times, foreign gods into the assembly of the old Egyptian gods, but the religious texts prove that they were never allowed to usurp the functions of the indigenous gods.

Political and other reasons might secure for them a certain amount of recognition in the country generally, and the people of the cities where their emblems and statues found resting-places treated them with the easy toleration which is so marked a characteristic of many countries in the East; but as soon as such reasons disappeared the foreign gods were quietly ignored, and in a short time their worship was forgotten. This statement is not intended to apply to the gods who were introduced from one city or district of Egypt into another, for we know that the Egyptian priesthood and people of a given city were ready to show hospitality to almost any god of any town, or city, or district, provided that he belonged to the same company as that of which the chief local god was a member.


Gods Of The Earliest Dynasties

We have, unfortunately, no long connected religious texts in the forms in which they must have existed under the first four dynasties, and we cannot therefore say what gods were worshipped during that period. There is, as has been shown elsewhere,[30] good reason for believing that some parts of the Book of the Dead were revised or edited during the early part of the period of the 1st Dynasty, and if this be so we may assume that the religious system of the Egyptians as revealed in the texts of a much later time closely resembled that which was in existence in the later part of the archaic period, i.e., during the first three dynasties.

Under the Vth and VIth Dynasties we touch firmer ground, and we find abundant, though not complete, materials for the study of the gods of Egypt and their attributes in the lengthy hieroglyphic texts which were inscribed inside the pyramid tombs of Unȧs, Tetȧ, Pepi I., Mer-en-Rā-Meḥti-em-sa-f, and Pepi II.

An examination of these texts reveals the existence of an established theological system in Egypt, and we find that even at that time the literature in which it was, more or less, expounded, contained innumerable layers of religious thought and expressions of belief which belonged to periods many of which must have been separated by long intervals of time. The gods are mentioned in such a way as to prove that the writers of the texts, or at least the copyists, assumed that the reader would be well acquainted with the subject matter of the compositions, and from first to last neither explanation nor gloss is to be found in them. The texts are, of course, sepulchral, and the greater number of the gods mentioned in them are referred to in their characters as gods who deal with the souls of the dead in the world beyond the grave.

The Sun-god Rā and the gods of his cycle, and Osiris, the god and judge of the dead, and the gods of his cycle, have definite positions and duties assigned to them, and it is very clear that both the texts which describe these and the ceremonies which were performed in connection with the words recited by the priests were, even under the Vth Dynasty, extremely ancient. Moreover, it is certain that the religious texts in use for funeral purposes under that dynasty are substantially those which were compiled several centuries before.

We may note in passing that the funeral books were edited by the priests of Annu or Anu, i.e., Heliopolis, and as a result they exhibit traces of the influence of the theological opinions of the great priestly college of that city ; but at bottom the views and beliefs which may be deduced from them, and the fundamental conceptions to which they give expression are the products of the minds of the predynastic, indigenous Egyptians. To the consideration of the Heliopolitan religious system we shall return later, and we may therefore pass on to the enumeration of the principal gods who are made known to us by the Pyramid Texts at Ṣaḳḳâra.


Gods Of The Archaic Period

Among the great gods who were certainly worshipped in the early archaic period may be mentioned:—

Ptaḥ (Tetȧ 88)

Nu (Unȧs 199)

Net, or Neith (Unȧs 67)

Rā (passim)

Ḥet-Ḥeru (Hathor)

Ḥeru,[33] or Horus (Mer-en-Rā 454)

Kheper } (Unȧs 444)

Kheprer } (Pepi II. 856)

Khnemu (Unȧs 556)

Sebek (Unȧs 565)


Of these gods Heru, or Horus, was the hawk-god, i.e., the spirit and personification of the “height” of heaven;
Kheper was the beetle-god ;
Khnemu the ram-god ;
and Sebek the crocodile-god ;
Net or Neith was originally a wood-spirit,
Rā and Ptah were two forms of the Sun-god,
and Nu was the watery mass of heaven in which he lived.

With Rā and Kheper the priests of Heliopolis associated the form of the Sun-god which was specially worshipped in their city, and thus we have mentioned the compound gods

  • Rā-Tem (Unȧs 216, 224, Mer-en-Rā 458),
  • and Tem-Kheprer (Pepi II. 662).

In the text of Unȧs (line 626) Sebek is styled

“son of Net,” ,

and he is also called

“lord of Baru,” (line 565);

but if the XVIIIth Dynasty texts be correct the name of this place is misspelt, andin any case it must be identical with the Bakhau, , or Mountain of the Sunrise of Chapter cviii. of the Book of the Dead.


Gods Of The Pyramid Texts

The following is a list of the other principal gods mentioned in the Pyramid Texts :—

Aḥu (Pepi II. 850) [34]
Aker (Unȧs 498, 614, Tetȧ 309)
Ȧpi (Unȧs 487) ,
Ȧp-uat (Unȧs 187)
Ȧmen (Unȧs 557)
Ȧment (Unȧs 557)
Ȧm-ḥenth-f (Pepi I. 666)
Ȧm-sepa-f (Pepi I. 666)
Ȧmsu or Min (Unȧs 377)
Ȧmset (Tetȧ 60, 197)
Ȧnȧ (Unȧs 272, 275)
Ȧnpu (Unȧs 71, 207, 219)
Ȧn-mut-f (Pepi II. 772)
  Ȧn-tcher-f (Pepi I. 651)
Ȧkhet-nen-thȧ (Tetȧ 307)
Ȧsȧr, Osiris (passim)
Ȧst, Isis (Unȧs 181)
Ȧsken (Pepi II. 1324)
Ȧṭer-ȧsfet (Pepi II. 980)
Ānkh (Pepi I. 672)
I-en-ḥer-pes (Unȧs 392)
Uahu (Tetȧ 333)
Ur-sheps-f (Pepi I. 671)
Urt (Unȧs 272)
Urt-hekau (Unȧs 269)
Usert (Unȧs 229)
Uthes (Pepi II. 976)
Ba (Mer-en-Rā 784)
Babȧ (Unȧs 532)
Babi (Unȧs 644, 647)
Baȧbu (Pepi I. 568)
Babuȧ (Pepi I. 604) [35]
Bastet (Pepi I. 569) [36]
Ba-āshem-f (Mer-en-Rā 784)
Pent (Unȧs 280)
Pesetchet (Unȧs 417)
Maat-Khnemu (Pepi 1.445)
Maāt (Unȧs 220)
Mut (Unȧs 181)
The variants are:
Ment (Pepi II. 849)
Menṭef (Pepi II. 1228)
Menth (Mer-en-Rā 784)
Meḥt-urt (Unȧs 427, 623)
Meḥt-urt (Unȧs 427, 623)
Em-khent-maati (Pepi I. 645)
Em-khent-maati (Pepi I. 645)
Meskha (Unȧs 567)
Meskhaat (Pepi I. 671)
Metchetȧt (Pepi II. 956)
Nȧu (Unȧs 557)
Nubt (Unȧs 479)
Nebt-ḥet (Unȧs 220)
Nefer-Tem (Unȧs 395)
Enen (Unȧs 557) }
Enenet (Unȧs 240) }
Nekhben (Unȧs 459)
Neḥebkau (Unȧs 559)
Nekhebet (Mer-en-Rā 762)
Neḥt (Unȧs 601)
Nesert (Unȧs 269)
Neṭi (Unȧs 279)
Netetthȧb (Unȧs 598)
Renenut (Unȧs 441)
Ruruthȧ (Pepi II. 976, 979)
Hepath (Pepi I. 636)
Henenȧ (Pepi I. 636)
Hetchhetch (Pepi I. 173)
Heṭṭenuut (Tetȧ, 332)
Ḥu (Unȧs 439)
Ḥep (Unȧs 187)
Ḥep-ur (Unȧs 431)
Ḥep (Tetȧ 60, 197)
Ḥem (Pepi I. 641)
Ḥemen (Pepi II. 850)
Ḥen-pesetchti (Tetȧ 309)
Ḥent (Unȧs 417)
Ḥunt (Tetȧ 357)
Ḥeru (passim)
Ḥeru-ȧāh (Tetȧ 365)
Ḥeru-ȧm-henu (Unȧs 211)
Ḥeru-khent-peru (Unȧs 202)
Ḥeru-khutthȧ (Unȧs 471)
Ḥeru-Sepṭ (Unȧs 465)
Ḥeru-ṭesher-maati (Unȧs 369)
Ḥeru-ṭat (Unȧs 218)
Ḥeru-kharṭ (Tetȧ 301)
Ḥrȧ-f-ḥa-f (Pepi I.)
Ḥer-ḥepes (Unȧs 226)
Ḥesat (Pepi II. 976)
Ḥesmennu (Mer-en-Rā 670)
Ḥet-Ḥert (Unȧs 575)
Ḥeka (Pepi I. 583)
Ḥeqet (Pepi I. 570)
Khāȧta (Unȧs 536)
Khebetch (Unȧs 434)
Khent-Ȧmenti (Unȧs 201)
Khent-maati (Unȧs 218)
Khnemu (Unȧs 556, Pepi I. 455)
Khensu (Unȧs 510)
Khensu-Sepṭ (Unȧs 588)
Sȧa (Unȧs 439)
Sathet (Pepi I. 297)
Seb (Unȧs 234)
Sephu-urt (Pepi II. 976)
Sepṭ (Unȧs 219)
Sma-ur (Unȧs 280)
Smentet (Tetȧ 355)
Sunth (Pepi II. 854) [37]
Seref-ur (Tetȧ 309)
Serqet (Pepi I. 647)
Serqet-ḥetu (Tetȧ 207)
Sehepu (Pepi I. 685)
Sekhemf (Pepi II. 978)
Sekhen-ta-en-ur (Unȧs 281)
Sekhet (Unȧs 390)
Sȧsha (Pepi II. 975)
Seker (Pepi I. 641) [38]
Seksen (Pepi I. 650) [39]
Set (Unȧs 6)
Sethȧsethȧ (Pepi I. 265)
Seththa (Pepi I. 259)
Shu (Unȧs 185)
Shesmu (Unȧs 511)
Sheskhentet (Unȧs 390)
Ḳenur (Pepi II. 979)
Ḳasut (Pepi II. 975)
Qebḥusennuf (Tetȧ 60)
Tait (Tetȧ 376)
Tebȧ (Unȧs 428)
Tefen (Unȧs 453)
Tefnut (Unȧs 453)
Tem (Unȧs 207)
Tem-kheprer (Pepi II. 662)
Tatet (Unȧs 67)
Ṭuamutef (Tetȧ 60)
Ṭenānu (Pepi I. 269)
Ṭenṭen (Unȧs 280)
Teḥuti (Unȧs 228)
Tchenṭ (Mer-en-Rā 773)
Tchenṭeru (Tetȧ 198)
Tchenṭtchenṭer (Pepi I. 301)


Other Divine Beings

Besides the above gods are mentioned the

“angel (or messenger) of the two gods,” (Unȧs 408);

and the

“Āshem that dwelleth within Ȧru,” (Tetȧ 351).

Allusions are made to the following important stars :—

Nekhekh (Tetȧ 218),
Sepṭet (Tetȧ 349), , i.e., the Dog Star.
Saḥ (Tetȧ 349), , i.e., Orion.
Seḥuṭ (Pepi II. 857), .


The Pyramid Texts show that in addition to the gods already enumerated there existed certain classes of beings to whom were attributed the nature of the gods, e.g.:—

The Āfu (Pepi 11. 951),
The Utennu (Pepi II. 951), .
The Urshu of Pe (Pepi II. 849), .
The Urshu of Nekhen (Pepi II. 849), .
The Ḥenmemet (Unȧs 211), .
The Set beings, superior and inferior, (Pepi II. 951), .
The Shemsu Ḥeru (Pepi I. 166), .


Of the functions of the Āfu and Utennu nothing whatever is known. The urshu, i.e., the Watchers, of Pe and Nekhen may have been groups of well-known gods, who were supposed to “watch over” and specially protect these cities ; but, on the other hand, they may only have been the messengers, or angels, of the souls of Pe and Nekhen. The Ḥenmemet beings are likewise a class of divine beings about whom we have no exact information.

In certain texts they are mentioned in connection with gods and men in such a manner that they are supposed to represent “unborn generations,” but this rendering will not suit many of the passages in which the word occurs, and in those in which it seems to do so many other hypothetical meanings would fit the context just as well. The passage in which the Set beings are referred to must belong to the period when the god Set was regarded as a beneficent being and a god who was, with Horus, a friend and helper of the dead.

The text quoted above shows that, like Horus, Set was supposed to be the head of a company of divine beings with attributes and characteristics similar to those of himself, and that this company was divided into two classes, the upper and the lower, or perhaps even the celestial and the terrestrial.

Last must be mentioned the Shemsu Heru, or the “Followers of Horus,” to whom many references are made in funeral literature; their primary duties were to minister to the god Horus, son of Isis, but they were also supposed to help him in the performance of the duties which he undertook for the benefit of the dead. In the religious literature of the Early Empire they occupy the place of the “Mesniu,”, of Horus of Beḥuṭet, the modern Edfû, i.e., the workers in metal, or blacksmiths, who are supposed to have accompanied this god into Egypt, and to have assisted him by their weapons in establishing his supremacy at Beḥuṭet, or Edfû. The exploits of this god will be described later on in the section treating of Horus generally.


The God Of Four Faces

In the text of Pepi I. (line 419) we have a reference to a god with four faces in the following words:—

“Homage to thee, O thou who hast four faces which rest and look in turn upon what is in Kenset,[40] and who bringest storm . . . . . ! Grant thou unto this Pepi thy two fingers which thou hast given to the goddess Nefert, the daughter of the great god, as messenger[s] from heaven to earth when the gods make their appearance in heaven.

Thou art endowed with a soul, and thou dost rise [like the sun] in thy boat of seven hundred and seventy cubits.[41]

Thou hast carried in thy boat the gods of Pe, and thou hast made content the gods of the East. Carry thou this Pepi with thee in the cabin of thy boat, for this Pepi is the son of the Scarab which is born in Ḥetepet beneath the hair of the city of Iusāas the northern, and he is the offspring of Seb.

It is he who was between the legs of Khent-maati on the night wherein he guarded (?) bread, and on the night wherein he fashioned the heads of arrows.

Thou hast taken thy spear which is dear to thee, thy pointed weapon which thrusteth down river banks, with a double point like the darts of Rā, and a double haft like the claws of the goddess Mafṭet.”


Companies Of The Gods

Throughout the Pyramid Texts frequent mention is made of one group, or of two or three groups, of nine gods.

Thus in Unȧs (line 179) we read of

“bowing low to the ground before the nine gods,”;

and in line 234 we are told that the king’s bread consists of

“the word[42] of Seb which cometh forth from the mouth of the nine male gods,”


The god Seshaȧ,, is said in line 382 to have been “begotten by Seb and brought forth by the nine gods,”


and in line 592 Rā is said to be the “chief of the nine gods,”


From several passages (e.g., Unȧs 251) we learn that one company of nine gods was called the “Great,”


and that another company was called the “Little,”


and the “nine gods of Horus” are spoken of side by side with “the gods,”

[43] (line 443),

but whether this group is to be connected with the Great or Little company of gods cannot be said.

A double group of nine gods is frequently referred to, e.g., in Tetȧ, line 67, where it is said, “The eighteen gods cense Tetȧ, and his mouth is pure,”


and in Pepi I., line 273, where we read that the “two lips of Meri-Rā are the eighteen gods,”


and again in line 407, where Pepi I. is said to be “with the eighteen gods in Qebhu,” and to be the“fashioner of the eighteen gods,”

We may perhaps assume that the eighteen gods include the Great and the Little companies of the gods, but, on the other hand, as “male and female gods” are mentioned[44] in the text of Tetȧ, nine of the eighteen gods may be feminine counterparts of the other nine, who must therefore be held to be masculine.

But the texts of Tetȧ (line 307) and Pepi I. (line 218) show that there was a third company of nine gods recognized by the priests of Heliopolis, and we find all three companies represented thus:


Paut Or Substance Of The Gods

The Egyptian word here rendered “company” is pauti or paut, which may be written eitheror, and the meaning usually attached to it has been “nine.”

It is found in texts subsequent to the period of the pyramids at Ṣaḳḳâra thus written:—

paut neteru,paut of the gods”;

the double company of the gods is expressed by


or we may have

, paut neteru aāt paut neteru netcheset,

i.e., “the (Great company of gods and the Little company of the gods.”

The fact that a company of gods is represented by nine axes,, has led to the common belief that a company of the gods contained nine gods, and for this reason the word paut has been explained to mean “nine.”

It is quite true that the Egyptians frequently assigned nine gods to the paut, as we may see from such passages as Unȧs 235,[45] and especially from line 283, where it is said,

“Grant thou that this Unȧs may rule the nine, and that he may complete the company of the gods,”


But the last quoted passage proves that a paut of the gods might contain more than nine divine beings, for it is clear that if the intent of the prayer was carried out the paut referred to in it would contain ten, king Unȧs being added to the nine gods.

Again, in a litany to the gods of the Great company given in the Unȧs text (line 240 ff.) we see that the paut contains

  1. Tem,
  2. Shu,
  3. Tefnut,
  4. Seb,
  5. Nut,
  6. Isis,
  7. Set,
  8. Nephthys,
  9. Thoth,
  10. and Horus,

i.e., ten gods, without counting the deceased, who wished to be added to the number of the gods.

In the text of Mer-en-Rā (line 205) the paut contains nine gods,[46] and it is described as the “Great paut which is in Ȧnnu” (Heliopolis), whilst in the text of Pepi II. (line 669) the same paut is said to contain

  1. Tem,
  2. Shu,
  3. Tefnut,
  4. Seb,
  5. Nut,
  6. Osiris,
  7. Osiris-Khent-Ȧmenti,
  8. Set,
  9. Horus,
  10. Rā,
  11. Khent-maati,
  12. and Uatchet,

i.e., twelve gods.

Similarly the gods of the Little paut are more than nine in number, and in Unȧs (line 253 f.) they are thus enumerated :—

  1. Rāt,,
  2. the dweller in Ȧnnu,,
  3. the dweller in Āntchet,,
  4. the dweller in Het-Serqet,,
  5. the dweller in the divine palace,,
  6. the dweller in  etch-paār,,
  7. the dweller in Orion,,
  8. the dweller in Ṭep,,
  9. the dweller in Ḥet-ur-ka,,
  10. the dweller in Unnu of the South,,
  11. the dweller in Unnu of the North,.

Thus the Little paut contained eleven gods, not counting the deceased who desired to be added to their number. The fact that the paut contained at times more than nine gods is thus explained by M. Maspero[47]:

“The number nine was the original number, but each of the nine gods, especially the first and the last, could be developed.”

Thus if it was desired to add the god Amen of the Theban triad to the paut of Heliopolis, he could be set at the head of it either in the place of Temu, the legitimate chief of the paut, or side by side with him. Mut, the consort of Amen, might be included in the paut, but Ȧmen and Mut would together only count as one god. Similarly, any one or all of the gods who belonged to the shrine of Amen could be included with that god himself in the paut of Heliopolis, and yet the number of that paut was supposed to be increased only by one.

In other words, the admission of one god into a paut brought with it the admission of all the gods who were in any way connected with him, but their names were never included among those of the original members of it. This explanation is very good as far as it goes, but it must not be taken as a proof that the Egyptians argued in this manner, or that they argued at all about it.

The nine axesare, beyond doubt, intended to represent nine gods, i.e., a triad of triads, but the signs paut neteru, must be translated not “Neunlieit,” as Brugsch rendered them,[48] but the “stuff of the nine gods,” i.e., the substance or matter out of which the nine gods were made. The word paut, , means “dough cake,” or cake of bread which formed part of the offerings made to the dead; similarly paut is the name given to the plastic substance out of which the earth and the gods were formed, and later, when applied to divine beings or things, it means the aggregation or entirety of such beings or things.

Thus in the Papyrus of Ani (sheet i., line 6) the god Tatunen is declared to be

“one, the maker of mankind, and of the material of the gods of the South and the North, the West and the East.”[49]


Substance Of The Gods

But there was a primeval matter out of which heaven was made, and also a [primeval] matter out of which the earth was made, and hence Kheperȧ, the great creator of all things, is said in Chapter xvii. (line 116) of the Book of the Dead to possess a body[50] which is formed of both classes of matter (paut).

And again in Chapter lxxxv. (line 8) the deceased, wishing to identify himself with this divine substance, says,

“I am the eldest son of the divine pautti, that is to say, the soul of the souls of the gods of everlasting, and my body is everlasting, and my creations are eternal, and I am the lord of years, and the prince of everlastingness.”

In the words which are put into the mouth of Kheperȧ, who is made to describe his creation of the world, the god says,

“I produced myself from the [primeval] matter [which] I made,”


this is the only meaning which can be extracted from the Egyptian words, and the context, which the reader will find given in the section on the Creation, proves that it is the correct one. The word primeval,” which is added in brackets, is suggested by the texts wherein paııtti is accompanied byṭep, i.e., “first,” in point of time, compare,[52] “first matter,” that is to say, the earliest matter which was created, and the matter which existed before anything else. From the above facts it is clear that the meaning “Neunheit” must not be given to the Egyptian word paııt.


Three Companies Of The Gods

We have now seen that, so far back as the Vth Dynasty, the priests of Heliopolis conceived the existence of three companies of gods ; the first two they distinguished by the appellations “Great” and “Little,” but to the third they gave no name.

The gods of the first or “Great” company are well known, and their names are :—

  1. Tem, the form of the Sun-god which was worshipped at Heliopolis.
  2. Shu.
  3. Tefnut.
  4. Seb.
  5. Nut.
  6. Osiris.
  7. Isis.
  8. Set.
  9. Nephthys.

Sometimes this company is formed by the addition of Horus and the omission of Tem.

The names of gods of the second or “Little” company appear to be given in the text of Unȧs, line 253 ff., where we have enumerated :—

  1. Rāt.
  2. Ȧm-Ȧnnu.
  3. Ȧm-Āntchet.
  4. Ȧm-Ḥet-Ṣerqet-ka-ḥetepet.
  5. Ȧm-Neter-ḥet.
  6. Ȧm-Ḥetch-paār.
  7. Ȧm-Saḥ.
  8. Ȧm-Ṭep.
  9. Ȧm-Ḥet-ur-Rā.
  10. Ȧm-Unnu-resu.
  11. Ȧm-Unnu-meḥt.

It must, however, be noted that whereas in the text the address to the Great company of the gods as a whole follows the separate addresses to each, the address to the Little company precedes the separate addresses to each ; still there is no reason for doubting that the second group of names given above are really those of the Little company of the gods.

The names of the gods of the third company are unknown, and the texts are silent as to the functions which the company was supposed to perforin ; the Great and Little companies of the gods are frequently referred to in texts of all periods, but the third company is rarely mentioned.

Thus in the text of Pepi I. (line 43),
the king is said to sit on an iron throne and to weigh words at the head of the Great company of gods in Ȧnnu;
the two companies of the gods lift up the head of Pepi (line 97),
and he takes the crown in the presence of the Great company (line 117);
he sits at the head of the two companies (line 167),
and in their boat (line 169);
and he stands between the two companies (line 186).

It has already been suggested [53] that the Great company of gods was a macrocosm of a primitive kind, and the Little company a microcosm; this view is very probably correct, and is supported by passages like the following :—

“The son of his father is come with the company of the gods of heaven, . . . the son of his father is come with the company of the gods of earth.”


From numerous passages in texts of all periods it is clear that the Egyptians believed that heaven was in many respects a duplicate of earth, and, as it was supposed to contain a celestial Nile, and sacred cities which were counterparts of those on the earth and which were called by similar names, it is only reasonable to assign to it a company of gods who were the counterparts of those on earth. And as there were gods of heaven and gods of earth, so also were there gods of the Ṭuat, or Underworld, who were either called ṭuat,, or, or neteru en ṭuat,.

This being so, we may assume that when the writers of the Pyramid Texts mentioned three companies of the gods, , they referred to the company of the gods of heaven, the company of the gods of earth, and the company of the gods of the Underworld, meaning thereby what the writer of the XXIIIrd Chapter of the Book of the Dead meant when he spoke of

“the company of all the gods,”


In the Pyramid Texts, however, and in the later Recensions of the Book of the Dead which are based upon them, the pautti neteru, , or , were intended to represent the Great and Little companies of the gods, and these only ; the members of each company varied in different cities and in different periods, but the principle of such variation is comparatively simple. Long before the priests of Heliopolis grouped the gods of Egypt into companies certain very ancient cities had their own special gods whom they probably inherited from their predecessors, i.e., the predynastic Egyptians.

Thus the goddess of Saïs was Nit, or Net, or Neith ;
the goddess of Per-Uatchet was Uatchet;
the goddess of Dendera was Hathor;
the goddess of Nekheb was Nekhebet;
the god of Edfû was Horus;
the god of Heliopolis was Tem;
and so on.

When the priests of these and other cities found that, for some reason, they were obliged to accept the theological system formulated by the priests of Heliopolis and its Great company of gods, they did so readily enough, but they always made the great local god or goddess the head or chief,, of the company.


The Companies Of The Gods

At Heliopolis, where the chief local god was called Tem, the priests joined their god to Rā, and addressed many of their prayers and hymns to Tem-Rā or Rā-Tem. At Edfû the great local god Horus of Beḥuṭet was either made to take the place of Tem, or was added to the Heliopolitan company in one form or another.

The same thing happened in the case of goddesses like Neith, Uatchet, Nekhebet, Hathor, etc. It was found to be hopeless to attempt to substitute the Heliopolitan company of gods for Neith in the city of Saïs, because there the worship of that goddess was extremely ancient and was very important.

The fact that her name forms a component part of royal names very early in the 1st Dynasty proves that her worship dates from the first half of the archaic period, and that it is much older than the theological system of Heliopolis. But when the priests of Saïs adopted that system they associated her with the head of the company of the gods, and gave her suitable titles and ascribed to her proper attributes, in accordance with her sex, which would make her a feminine counterpart to the god Tem.

The god Tem was the Father-god, and the lord of heaven, and the begetter of the gods, therefore Neith became

“the great lady, the mother-goddess, the lady of heaven, and queen of the gods,”


Elsewhere[55] she is called

“mother of the gods,”

and just as Tem was declared to have been self-produced, so we find the same attribute ascribed to Neith, and she is said to be

“the great lady, who gave birth to Rā, who brought forth in primeval time herself, never having been created,”[56]


The same thing happened at the cities of Per-Uatchet in the Delta and Nekhebet in Upper Egypt, for at one place Uatchet, the ancient and local goddess, became the head of the company of gods, and the goddess Nekhebet at the other.

It is interesting to note that the priests of Heliopolis themselves included Uatchet in their Great company of the gods, as we may see from the text of Pepi II.,[57] where we find that the deceased king prays concerning the welfare of his pyramid “to the great paut of gods in Ȧnnu,” i.e.,

  1. Tem,
  2. Shu,
  3. Tefnut,
  4. Seb,
  5. Nut,
  6. Osiris,
  7. Set,
  8. Nephthys,
  9. Khent-Maati,
  10. and Uatchet.

The goddess Hathor at Dendera was treated by the priests there as was Neith at Saïs, for every conceivable attribute was ascribed to her, and her devotees declared that she was the mother of the gods, and the creator of the heavens and the earth, and of everything which is in them. In fact, both Neith and Hathor were made to assume all the powers of the god Tem, and indeed of every solar god.


Local Gods

The general evidence derived from a study of texts of all periods shows that the chief local gods of many cities never lost their exalted positions in the minds of the inhabitants, who clung to their belief in them with a consistency and conservatism which are truly Egyptian. In fact, the god of a nome, or the god of the capital city of a nome, when once firmly established, seems to have maintained his influence in all periods of Egyptian history, and though his shrine may have fallen into oblivion as the result of wars or invasions, and his worship have been suspended from time to time, the people of his city always took the earliest opportunity of rebuilding his sanctuary and establishing his priests as soon as prosperity returned to the country.

Footnotes and references:


The passages from the Pyramid Texts are collected in my Papyrus of Ani, London, 1894, pp. 1xxi. ff.


See Champollion, Monuments, tom. iv., Paris, 1845, pl. 382.


Ibid; See also Newberry, Beni-Hasan, ii., pl. iv.


See Rosellini, Monumenti Cìvili, pl. xxiii., No. 4.


Ibid, pl. xxiii., No. 6.


See Lepsius, Denckmäler, iii., pl. 131.


Index des hiéroglyphes phonétiąues, No. 394.


Griffith, Hieroglyphs, p 46.


Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch., 1899, p. 310.


See my History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 10, where it is figured and described.


“Le mot par lequel on rendait ľidée de Dieunuter, signifie au “propre, ‘renouvellement,’ parce que dans la conception myhologique, le dieu s’assure une éternelle jeunesse par le renouvellement de lui-même, en s’engendrant lui-même perpétuellement.” Essai sur la Mythologie Égyptienne, Paris, 1879, p. 8.


Religion of Ancient Egypt, p. 93.


Études de Mythologie et ďArchéologie Égyptiennes, tom. ii., p. 215.


Maspero, op. cit., p. 215.   


Religion und Mythologie, p. 93.


“Der Inbegriff dieses Wortes deckt sich daher vollständig mit der ursprüngliclien Bedeutung des griechischen physis und des Iateinischen natura (p. 93.)


Egyptian Religion, by J. Lieblein, Leipzig, 1884.


La Mythologie Égyptienne (Études de Mythoiogie, tom. ii., p. 215).


See my Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, Text, p. 11, 1. 10.


Ibid., p. 43, 1. 4.


See my Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 80, 1. 10.


Ibid., p. 154, 1. 6.


Ibid., p. 168, 1. 3.


Ibid., p. 174, 1. 15.


Ibid., p. 417, 1. 12.


Ibid., p. 419, 1. 7.


See my Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, Text, p. 509, 1. 13.


Ibid, p. 511, 1. 13.


Ibid, p. 49, 1. 1.


See my Book of the Dead, London, 1901, vol. i., p. xxxiii.


Or, (Unȧs, 399), or (Tetȧ, 78).


Or,  (Unȧs, 272).


Or,  Ḥeru-ur, “Horus the elder” (Unȧs, 358).


Aḥu appears to be identical with , who is Am su or Min ; see Pepi II., 1. 1320.


This god is said to have a “red ear” .


Var. .


Var. Pepi I., 352.


He is identified with in Pepi II., 1320.


Var. .




tche means literally “word,” but it often is used to express “thing,” “matter,” like the Hebrew .


Variant ; Tetȧ, 1. 253.


(1. 197).



; see also Pepi II., l. 665.


La Mythologie Égyptienne, p. 245.


“Ɗer kosmogonisclie Lehre von der Ogdoas, deren aelteste Spuren sicħ bis “zu den Pyramidentexten verfolgen lassen, schloss sicli die Ɗoctrin ‘der Neunheit’ (Enneas) oder der  an. Sie umfasste die genetiscbe Entstehung der neun Theile nnd Kräfte, welche die zukünftige Wohnung der den Leib Gottes bildeten, dessen Seele davon Besitz nahm, um alles mit ihr zu erfullen.” Aegyptologie, p. 170.




See Archaeologia, vol. lii., p. 557.


See my Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, Text, p. 348, 1. 15.


Maspero, La Mytliologie Égyptienne, p. 244.


Pepi I., 11. 298-300.


D. Mallet, Le Culte de Neit à Saïs, Paris, 1888, p. 47.


Ibid., p. 146.


See ll. 669 ff.

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