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 IV - The Companions Of The Gods

The Four Pillars of Heaven

In the preceding chapters, which are devoted to the consideration of general questions concerning God and the gods, no mention is made of the habitation of these divine beings or of their companions. The texts of all periods are silent as to the exact position of heaven, but it is certain that the Egyptians assigned to it a place above the sky, and that they called it pet ; we must distinguish between the meanings of pet and nut , for the former means “heaven,” and the latter “sky.” We may also note that two skies are mentioned in the texts, i.e., , the day sky, and , the night sky.

The hieroglyphic for heaven and sky represents a slab, each end of which rests on a support, and we may assume that the primitive Egyptians believed that each end of heaven rested upon a support (i.e., two mountains); out of one mountain came the sun every morning, and into the other he entered every night. The mountain of Sunrise was called Bakhau, , and the mountain of Sunset Manu, .

In the earliest times the sky was divided into two parts only, the East and the West, but later another division was made, and heaven was split up into four parts, and each was placed under the care of a god. The latter division was made long before the Pyramid Texts were written, for in them it is always assumed that the flat slab of iron which formed the sky, and therefore the floor of the abode of the gods,was rectangular, and that each corner of it rested upon a pillar,.

That this is a very ancient view concerning the sky is proved by the hieroglyphic , which is used in texts to determine words for rain, storm, and the like; here we have a picture of the sky falling and being pierced by the four pillars of heaven.

At a later period, the four quarters of heaven were believed to be under the direction of four gods, and the four pillars of the sky were poetically described as the four sceptres which they held in their hands. Thus in the text of Tetȧ (1. 233) it is said,

“As Tetȧ goeth towards them they bring unto him the four gods who stand with the sceptres of heaven, and they repeat the name of Tetȧ to Rā, and they take up his name to Horus of the two horizons.” [1]

In several texts[2] allusion is made to the lifting up of heaven upon its four pillars, e.g.,, and in one place the four pillars are said to support that on which the four heavens rest,; at a comparatively late period the idea arose that the sky needed support in the middle as well as at the corners, and the god who acted as the prop was called Ḥeḥ,.

According to one myth which represented the heavens in the form of the head of a man, and which made the sun and the moon to be his eyes, the supports of heaven were supposed to be formed of his long flowing hair, and thus we have in the text of Unȧs (1. 473) an allusion to the

“four elder spirits who dwell in the locks of hair of Horus, who stand in the eastern part of heaven grasping their sceptres.” [3]

The gods who grasped as sceptres the four pillars of heaven, which eventually became the four cardinal points, were

  1. Ȧmset,, god of the southern point,
  2. Ḥāp,, the god of the northern point,
  3. Ṭua-mutef,, the god of the eastern point,
  4. and Qebḥsennuf, , the god of the western point.

These four gods played a prominent part in connexion with the deceased in the Pyramid Texts, where they are called the “children of Horus,” [4] for at one time they are called upon to bring him the boat of the Eye of Tem,, which is on the Lake of Kha, and at another they are exhorted to protect his life by their magical power and amulets,,[5] and finally the deceased is said to become one of these four gods (Pepi I. 1. 672),. The duties which are assigned to them as funereal gods in the Book of the Dead will be described later on.


The Followers of Horus

Chief among the dwellers in heaven was the god Rā, who is said to sit upon an iron throne [the sides of which were ornamented] with the faces of lions and feet which resembled the hoofs of bulls.[6] Round about Rā, whether walking or sitting, were the gods who were “in his train,” and these formed the nucleus of the inhabitants of heaven. Next to these came certain companies of the gods, and as the whole universe was divided into three portions, namely, heaven, earth, and the Ṭuat, or Underworld, and each portion had its own gods, we may assume that a place was reserved for them in the heaven of the Egyptians.

But this heaven also contained several classes of beings, first and foremost among whom may be mentioned the Shesu-Ḥeru, or Shemsu-Ḥeru, a name which appears in the Pyramid Texts under the form (Pepi I., 1. 166), and may be translated “Followers of Horus.”

They are, in fact, beings who followed Horus, the son of Isis, in heaven, where they waited upon him, and performed his behests, and when necessary defended and protected him. They occupied a position of great importance among the celestial hosts, and are mentioned in such a way as to suggest that they were almost equal to the gods ; thus Pepi I. (1. 166) is said to “pacify them,” but on the other hand it was they who

“washed him, and who recited on his behalf the Chapter of those who come forth, and [the Chapter of those who] rise up.” [7]


The Āshemu and Ḥenmemet

Next may be mentioned the Āshemu, , a class of beings whose characteristics are not known, and who in the text of Tetȧ (1. 327) are referred to in connexion with the sekhemu. The word āshem is usually supposed to mean the “form in which a god is visible,” but it must have another and an older meaning.

The Ḥemenet,,[8] or hamemet, appear to have been a class of beings who either were to become, or had already been, human beings, but the Egyptians themselves seem to have had no very clear idea about their attributes, and the passages in the Theban Book of the Dead in which they are mentioned have been understood in different ways by different scholars.

In a hymn it is said of Rā,

“when he riseth the rehhit (i.e., rational beings) live, and the hamemet,, exult in him”;

Osiris is called “[lord of] the hamemet, , in Kher-āha”; and the deceased says in Chapter xlii. of the Book of the Dead, And shall do me hurt neither men, nor gods,, nor spirits, , nor the dead (or damned),, nor the pāt,, nor the rehhit (i.e., rational beings), nor the hamemet.”

Elsewhere the deceased prays

“that the company of the gods may hold their peace whilst the hamemet talk with me”;[9]

and it seems from a passage in an inscription of Ḥātshepset[10] as if in the latter part of the dynastic period the word had come to mean a class of men and women, especially as it is determined by the signs , which usually indicate a number of human beings.

Thus Rameses III. speaks of

“all the gods and goddesses of the South and the North, and all men, and all the pāt, and all the rekhit, and all the hamemet”;

finally, that the hamemet were believed to live upon grain is proved by the passage in a hymn to Ȧmen-Rā wherein this god is said to be the

“maker of the green herb which giveth life to the beasts and cattle, and of the plant of life,, of the hamemet.” [11]


The Āfau, Utennu, and Setu

Of the characteristics of the classes of beings called Āfa, , and Utennu, , who are mentioned in the text of Pepi II, (l. 951), we know nothing, and the same must be said of the Set beings,, who were, however, divided into two classes, the Upper and the Lower,.

The following extract will show how these beings are mentioned :—

“O great heaven, stretch out thy hand to Pepi Nefer-ka-Rā! O mighty heaven, stretch out thy hand to Pepi Nefer-ka-Rā, for Pepi is thy divine hawk,.

Pepi hath come having come forth into heaven, and he hath penetrated Qebḥu; Pepi hath paid homage to his father, and he riseth like Horus.

Pepi hath come to the place where he is, and he (his father) granteth to him to rise like the sun, and he stablisheth for him his two divine utchats,, and when Pepi cometh forth with him, great like Horus, son of Nut, and like the child with the lock of hair (i.e., Harpocrates), and smiting the crowns, and giving orders to the gods Utennu, the Āfa gods follow Pepi, and those who are in the heavens and on the earth come to him paying homage, together with the two uraei guides,, and the jackals, and the spirits, and the Set beings, both the Upper and the Lower.”

It is possible that the Set beings may have been of like nature to the god Set, who was the brother and associate of Horus in the earliest times, but who in later times lost his position as a god and became the type and symbol of all evil.


The Watchers of Pe and Nekhen

In addition to these the text of Pepi II. (line 849) mentions the “Watchers of the city of re,” and the “Watchers of the city of Nekhen,” , from which we may assume that certain cities were supposed to enjoy the protection of a number of gods whose duty it was to look after their interests in heaven.

We know from several passages in the Book of the Dead that groups of gods were called the “souls” of such and such cities, and it is clear from the inscriptions that each city and town possessed a soul which had, like the soul of a man after death, the power to wander about at will. Thus on a wall in the temple which Cleopatra VII. built at Erment (now destroyed), was a scene in which the great queen was depicted in the act of giving birth to her son Caesarion.

The goddess Neith holds up the queen’s arms, and the midwife Netchemtchemt,, receives the boy in the presence of several gods and goddesses. Now in the upper part of the relief were two groups of souls of cities, seven on the right hand and seven on the left, who were supposed to have been present at the birth of the child, and to have taken him under their protection.

Among the cities represented are

  • Thebes,
  • Ant, ,
  • Het, ,
  • Qeset,
  • Unt,
  • Ȧhet,
  • Ḥetep,
  • Uauaā,,
  • etc.[12]

Each soul is in the form of a human-headed hawk, and each has on its head horns and a disk,, in the front of which is a uraeus.


The Living Ones

Want of space does not allow of the mention of many obscure beings who are called gods, and who are practically innumerable, and we therefore pass on to refer to the spirits and souls, etc., of the righteous men and women who once lived upon this earth. To these, as well as to the divine beings, was given the name “living ones,”, as may be seen from the passage in Unȧs (line 206), which reads,

“Hail, Unȧs, behold thou hast not departed dead (), but as one living () thou hast gone to take thy seat upon the throne of Osiris. Thy sceptre āb () is in thy hand, and thou givest commands unto the living ones ; thy sceptre mekes (), and thy sceptre Nehebet () are in thy hands, and thou givest thine orders to those whose habitations are hidden.”

When king Tetȧ is in heaven the seat of his heart is declared to

“be among the living ones on this earth for ever,”. [13]

We have in this latter passage a proof that the Egyptians conceived it possible for a man to attain to all the attributes of a divine being, or, let us say, of an angel, and at the same time to enjoy an existence upon earth as well as in heaven.

This idea probably arose because they wished to provide a future for the dead body just as they provided a habitation in heaven for the spirits and souls of the righteous. Heaven and earth were complements each of the other, the gods of heaven were the complements of the gods of earth, and vice versâ, and the existence of the spiritual and mental attributes of man with the gods in heaven was a complement of his continued life after death in some region on this earth.


The Spirits and Souls of the Dead

The Pyramid Texts show that the opinion of the Egyptians about the number and functions of the constituent parts of his economy, both physical and spiritual, changed as time went on and as they ascended the various grades which led up to the high platform of their civilization, and the result of the change, or rather changes, made itself manifest in their religious compositions. In the early predynastic period they thought that the life after death was a mere continuation of the life in this world, and when they had placed some food in or on the graves of their dead they were satisfied.

But they knew that the body of a man in the new life could not be like that which he possessed on earth, although its form might be similar, and they therefore assumed the existence of another body. In his dreams the Egyptian saw a figure of himself or a duplicate, engaged in various occupations, and to this figure he gave the name ka,; it was born with a man, it remained within him, usually inoperative, and survived him at death.

It never left the body in the grave or tomb, and the offerings which were made in the halls of the tombs in all periods were intended to maintain its existence. Nevertheless the ka of Horus,, is in heaven (Tetȧ, line 88), and also the ka of Tetȧ (line 94), which is adjured to bring that which the king might eat with it; and as the kau of men and gods lived in heaven so there lived there also the kau of cities, e.g., of the city of Pe,(Tetȧ, line 88), and the

“lords of hau praised Rā both in the dominions of Horus and in the dominions of Set.”[14]

King Unȧs is declared to be the “chief of the doubles,”, and he is said to

“gather together hearts for the great wise chief” (Unȧs, line 395).

Men and gods alike possessed shadows, and they also had an existence in heaven after the death of the bodies to which they belonged. When Unȧs had eaten the bodies of the gods, and had absorbed all their souls and spirits, it is said that the

“flame of Unȧs is in their bones, for their soul is with Unȧs, and their shadows are with their forms”

(Unȧs, line 523, Tetȧ, line 330).


The Sāḥu or Spiritual Body

The souls and the spirits of men had their abode in heaven with the gods, and the religious texts of all periods are so full of allusions to this fact that it is unnecessary to quote examples; the soul, ba,, is usually depicted in the form of a hawk with a human head, and the spirit, khu,, as a heron.

Related intimately to the body, but with undefined functions, so far as we can discover, was the sekhem,, a word which has been translated “power,” and “form,” and even “vital force;” and finally the glorified body, to which had been united the soul, and spirit, and power, and name of the deceased, had its abode in heaven.

This new body of the deceased in heaven was called sāḥu, , and may for all practical purposes be termed the spiritual body ; it grew out of the dead body and was called into existence by the ceremonies which were performed, and the words which were recited by the priests on the day when the mummified body was laid in the tomb.

Thus we see that the denizens of heaven consisted of the Great, and the Little, and the other companies of the gods ; and of a large number of beings, who may for convenience be called the “inferior gods,” and of several orders of beings who possessed some characteristic which caused the Egyptians to assume that they were divine; and of the shadows, doubles, souls, spirits, powers, hearts, and spiritual bodies of those who had lived upon this earth.

In Chapter lxiv. of the Book of the Dead (line 21) is a curious statement to the effect that the “spirits are four million, six hundred and one thousand, two hundred,”, in number, but whether this is intended to be an enumeration of the spirits of heaven, or of the spirits which once inhabited human bodies, cannot be said. Of the occupations of the denizens of heaven little is known, but to some of them was assigned the task of directing the affairs of this world, others directed the operations of the celestial bodies, and others were attached to the trains of the great gods, and accompanied them in their triumphant courses through the heavens.

All these sang praises to Rā as the king and chief of the gods, and they sang hymns to him describing his greatness and glory just as men sang songs of joy to the sun when he rose and set. The gods nourished themselves with celestial food which was supplied to them by the Eye of Horus, that is to say, they supported their existence on the rays of light which fell from the sun which lit up heaven, and they became beings whose bodies were wholly of light.

According to one myth the gods themselves lived upon a “wood, or plant of life,” (Pepi I., line 430), which seems to have grown near the great lake in Sekhet-ḥetep, round which they were wont to sit,[15] but this idea belongs to the group of views which held that the beatified dead lived in a beautiful, fertile region, where white wheat and red barley grew luxuriantly to a great height, and where canals were numerous and full of water, and where material enjoyments of every kind could be found.

In other places we read of “bread of eternity,” and “beer of eternity,” i.e., bread and beer which was supposed never to grow stale or to become spoiled,[16] and we also have mention of a heavenly fig-tree () and a heavenly vine (), the fruit of which is eaten by the beatified. The bread upon which the blessed fed themselves was that bread which the Eye of Horus shed upon the branches of the olive-tree,(Unȧs, line 200). Finally, the blessed were arrayed in apparel similar to that which was worn by the gods, but they also had white linen garments on their bodies, and white sandals on their feet.


The Abode of the Blessed

All these details show the simple character of the heaven which the primitive Egyptian imagined, and prove that it was at first intended to be nothing but the celestial complement of a terrestrial farm or estate. He wished for a vine, and a fig-tree, and an olive tree, for wheat wherewith to make bread, and for barley wherewith to brew beer; he also desired clean white garments and white sandals.

His celestial homestead he expected to be intersected with numerous canals, which would do away with the necessity of laboriously drawing water from the celestial Nile by means of some mechanical contrivance similar to the modern shadûf; the tillage would, of course, be provided for in the next world by the gods, who would take care that the crops did not fail.

This simple material heaven is very different from the heaven of the Hebrew and Muhammadan writers, with its sensual and sensuous joys of every kind, and its luxurious meats, and drinks, and delights. We know from one or two passages in the Pyramid Texts that there were women in heaven just as there were goddesses, but they are not spoken of as are the Ḥur al-‘uyûn (houris), i.e., the women with large, black pupils of the eye set in large whites, who are mentioned in Arabic descriptions of Paradise, and they are not made to be one of the chief attractions of heaven.

As far as can be seen, the heaven of the Egyptians had no musical instrument in it, and the only sounds heard in it must have been the songs of the ministering gods and of the beatified when they hymned the Great God. What the Egyptian gentleman who lives on his own land in places remote from towns is now, the Egyptian gentleman everywhere was then ; he loved to wash and anoint himself, and having put on clean linen to sit in the sun in the morning, and to bear himself with dignity, and to be treated with respect by his neighbours and inferiors.

He loved to have corn, and wine, and oil in abundance, and a sufficient number of slaves to minister to his wants and to maintain his dignity when he moved about from village to village. He honoured his mother, and usually married a very limited number of wives, among whom might be a sister, or half-sister, or cousin, and he took great interest in his male offspring ; we note in the Pyramid Texts that the families of the deceased kings are never mentioned, and that nothing is said about their wives, although Unȧs (lines 628, 629) is said to carry off women from their husbands, , wheresoever he pleaseth, whensoever he pleaseth.

On the other hand, Isis is said to come to king Tetȧ, who unites with her, and the goddess having conceived like the star Sepṭ gives birth to Horus Sepṭ,[17] and in another passage Unȧs is said to have become the husband of the goddess Māuit, and also of the young woman who brought bread to him.[18]

But these beings were, after all, only the celestial waters described under the forms of a goddess and a woman, and the sensual idea conveyed by a literal interpretation of the text therefore disappears.

The life of the primitive Egyptians in heaven was as simple as their life upon earth, and their chief wish was to enjoy a state of comfortable and dignified peace, without war and without tumult or strife. We hear nothing of a heaven with a floor of white flour or musk, with pearls for stones, and trees with trunks of gold, and houses covered with gold and silver, and rivers of milk, and honey, and wine, and innumerable maidens with bodies made of pure musk, who live in pavilions made of hollow pearls and are free from all defects of their sex.

The idea of the means to be employed for reaching the heaven of the Egyptians was as primitive as that of the heaven itself, for the Egyptians thought that they could climb on to the iron floor of heaven by going to the mountains, the tops of which it touched in some places. At a later period it was thought that a ladder was necessary, certainly for those who did not live near the mountains whose tops touched heaven’s floor, and in many tombs models of ladders were placed so that the deceased might make use of them at the proper time.

The god Osiris even was believed to have needed a ladder, and to have been helped to ascend it by Rā and Horus, or by Horus and Set. The idea of the need of a ladder was deeply seated in the Egyptian mind, for when the custom of placing models of ladders in the tombs ceased, they drew pictures of them in the papyri of the Book of the Dead which were placed in tombs.[19] The model of the ladder,, maqet, could be made as long as the deceased wished by reciting certain words of power over it, and by similar means the picture of the ladders given in the papyri could be turned into real ladders.


The Sekhet-ḥetep

The above mentioned facts will show that in his conception of heaven the Egyptian never succeeded in freeing himself wholly from material ideas and the wish to make sure of eternal life and happiness by means of his own acts. In the latter part of the dynastic period the conception of heaven became more material, and at length, if we may judge by the texts, the belief in the resurrection of the actual physical body prevailed, and the life after death was regarded as nothing but a continuation of the life upon earth. Thus the title of Chapter cx. of the Book of the Dead declares that the text which follows will give a man the power of “doing everything even as a man doetli upon earth.”

As a result of this view the deceased prays thus :—

“May I become a khu (spirit) therein, i.e., in the Sekhet-ḥetep or Elysian Fields, may I eat therein, may I drink therein, may I plough therein, may I reap therein, may I fight therein, may I make love therein, may my words be mighty therein, may I never be in a state of servitude therein, but may I be in authority therein.”

He also wishes that he may have with him in Sekhet-ḥetep his father and mother, and presumably his wife and children, and also the god or gods of his city, but in these materialistic passages we find no mention of his desire to worship and praise the gods of heaven, or even the Great God who is said to “grow” therein.

Thus in another place in the same chapter he says,

“O Uakh, I have entered into thee, I have eaten my bread, I have gotten the mastery over choice pieces of the flesh of oxen and of feathered fowl, and the birds of Shu have been given to me.

I have plunged into the lakes of Tchesert; behold me, for all filth hath departed from me.

The Great God groweth therein, and behold, I have found [food therein] ; I have snared feathered fowl and I feed upon the best of them. . . .

I have seen the Osiris [my father], and I have gazed upon my mother, and I have made love.”

In every division of the Elysian Fields the deceased, in the later period of dynastic history, found some fresh material pleasure, but, in spite of all its inconsistencies and his materialism, the heaven of the Egyptians was better and purer than that of many more modern nations which are credited with higher intelligence and better civilization.

Footnotes and references:



See Brugsch, Wörterbuch, p. 1351.



, Pepi I., 1. 593.


Pepi I., l. 444.


Ibid, ll, 309, 310.


Compare the variant.


Tetȧ, 1. 95.


See the list of passages given in my Vocabulary to the Book of the Dead, p. 205.



Ed. Grébaut, section vi.


See Lepsius, Denkmäler, iv. pl. 60


Compare also , Pepi I., ll. 545, 546


, Tetȧ, l. 192.


, pepi, l. 431


Tetȧ, l. 288, Pepi I., l. 442 and l. 390.


,Tetȧ, l. 276


,Unȧs, l. 181.


See the Papyrus of Ani, 2nd edition, pl. 22.

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