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 X - The Myths Of Rā

In the preceding pages it has been shown how among theologians and thoughtful Egyptians Rā was regarded as God, but among certain classes, that is to say magicians, and astrologers, and soothsayers, quite other views were held about his nature and attributes. It will be remembered that among such men in ancient times it was customary to prescribe as antidotes to poison and sicknesses the recital or wearing of certain magical texts; the power of such texts was thought to be very great, especially if it contained a narrative of how some god or divine being had been delivered by the power of a great being from death by poison or by a sickness caused by poison.

We may note in passing that such beliefs were not confined to the Egyptians, and that we find exactly the same ideas existent in Babylonia and Assyria; this is illustrated by the following interesting extract from a Babylonian tablet recently published by Mr. R. Campbell Thompson.[1]

The text reads:—

“From Anu [came the heavens], the heavens created [the earth], the earth created the rivers, the rivers created the canals, the canals created the marshes, and the marshes created the Worm. Then came the Worm before Shamash, the Sun-god, weeping, and before Ea came up her tearful plaint, [saying],

‘What wilt thou give me to eat? What wilt thou give me to gnaw?’

[The gods said],

‘I will give thee dry bones [to eat], and the pungent khashkhar wood.’

[The Worm said],

‘What are thy dry bones to me ? Or, what is thy khashkhar wood to me ? Let me drink among the teeth [of men], and give me my place in [their] gums, that I may suck the blood of the teeth, and that I may tear asunder the flesh of the gums. In this wise I shall have power over the bolt of the door’ (i.e., the mouth of a man).

Therefore, O sick man, shalt thou say the following words,

‘O Worm, may Ea smite thee with all his might.’”

Following these words come the rubrical directions which order the patient to mix together a prescription compounded of beer, oil, and the juice of a certain plant, and when the incantation has been recited over the man with the toothache three times, the mixture is to be rubbed on the tooth. In the one case the object of the narrative was to cure the man who had been bitten by a venomous serpent, and in the other to ease the pain in the teeth and the inflammation of the gums which were supposed to be caused by a worm, a descendant of the original Worm which claimed before Ea the right to make teeth decay and to suck the blood of the gums.


Rā and Isis

The Egyptian texts which were written for magical purposes have preserved for us some very curious and interesting myths of Rā, and among these may be quoted the following story about him and the goddess Isis.[2]

The title reads :—

“The Chapter of the divine god, the self-created being, who made the heavens and the earth, and the winds which give life, and the fire, and the gods, and men, and beasts, and cattle, and reptiles, and the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea; he is the king of men and of gods, he hath but one period to his life, and with him a double ḥen period (i.e., one hundred and twenty years) is as a single year ; his names are manifold and unknown, the gods even know them not.”


Rā is Poisoned

The story runs:—

“Now Isis was a woman who possessed words of power ; her heart was wearied with the millions of men, therefore she chose the millions of the gods, but she esteemed more highly the millions of the spirits.

And she meditated in her heart, saying,

‘Cannot I by means of the sacred name of God make myself mistress of the earth and become a goddess of like rank and power to Rā in heaven and upon earth?’

And behold, each day Rā entered at the head of his holy mariners and established himself upon the throne of the two horizons ; but the divine one (i.e., Rā) had grown old, he dribbled at the mouth, his spittle fell upon the earth, and his slobbering dropped upon the ground.

And Isis kneaded [some] thereof with earth in her hand, and formed therewith a sacred serpent in the form of a dart; she did not set it upright before her face, but let it lie upon the ground in the path whereby the great god went forth, according to his heart’s desire, into his double kingdom.

Now the holy god arose, and the gods who followed him as though he were Pharaoh went with him ; and he came forth according to his daily wont; and the sacred serpent bit him. The flame of his life departed from him; and he who dwelt among the cedars was overcome.

The holy god opened his mouth, and the cry of his majesty reached unto heaven; his company of the gods said,

‘What hath happened?’

and his gods exclaimed,

‘What is it?’

But Rā could not answer, for his jaws trembled and all his members quaked, the poison spread swiftly through his flesh just as Nile rusheth through all his land.

When the great god had stablished his heart, he cried unto those who were in his train, saying,

‘Come unto me, O ye who have come into being from my body, ye gods who have come forth from me, make ye known unto Kheperȧ that a dire calamity hath fallen upon me. My heart perceiveth it, but my eyes see it not; my hand hath not caused it, nor do I know who hath done this unto me.

Never have I felt such pain, neither can sickness cause more woe than this. I am a prince, the son of a prince, the sacred essence which hath proceeded from God.

I am the great one, the son of the great one, and my father planned my name; I have multitudes of names, and multitudes of forms, and my being is in every god.

I have been proclaimed by the heralds Temu and Horus; and my father and my mother uttered my name ; but it hath been hidden within me by him that begat me, who would not that the words of power of any seer should have dominion over me.

I came forth to look upon that which I had made, I was passing through the world which I had created, when lo ! something stung me, but what I know not. Is it fire ? Is it water ? My heart is on fire, my flesh quaketh, and trembling hath seized all my limbs.

Let there be brought unto me my children, the gods who possess the words of power and magical speech, and mouths which know how to utter them, and also powers which reach even unto the heaven.’


The Holy Name of Rā

“Then the children of every god came unto him uttering cries of grief. And Isis also came, bringing with her her words of magical power, and her mouth was full of the breath of life ; for her talismans vanquish the pains of sickness, and her words make to live again the throats of those who are dead.

And she spake, saying,

‘What hath come to pass, O holy Father? What hath happened ? Is it that a serpent hath bitten thee, and that a thing which thou hast created hath lifted up his head against thee ?

Verily it shall be cast down by my effective words of power, and I will drive it away from before the sight of thy sunbeams.’

The holy god opened his mouth and said,

‘I was passing along my path, and I was going through the two regions of my lands according to my heart’s desire, to see that which I had created, when lo ! I was bitten by a serpent which I saw not. Is it fire ? Is it water ? I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire.

All my flesh sweateth, I quake, mine eye hath no strength, I cannot see the sky, and the sweat rusheth to my face even as in the time of summer.’


Isis the Enchantress

“Then said Isis unto Rā,

‘O tell me thy name, holy Father, for whosoever shall be delivered by thy name shall live.’

And Rā said, ‘

I have made the heavens and the earth,
I have knit together the mountains,
I have created all that is above them,
I have made the water,
I have made to come into being the goddess Meḥt-urt,
and I have made the Bull of his mother, from whom spring the delights of love,
I have made the heavens,
I have stretched out the two horizons like a curtain,
and I have placed the souls of the gods within them.

I am he who, if he openeth his eyes, doth make the light, and, if he closeth them, darkness cometh into being. At his command the Nile riseth, and the gods know not his name.

I have made the hours,
I have created the days,
I bring forward the festivals of the year,
I create the Nile-flood.
I make the fire of life, and I provide food in the houses.

I am Kheperȧ in the morning,
I am Rā at noon,
and I am Temu at even.’

Meanwhile the poison was not taken away from his body, but it penetrated deeper, and the great god could no longer walk.

Then said Isis unto Rā,

‘What thou hast said is not thy name. O tell it unto me, and the poison shall depart; for he shall live whose name shall be revealed.’

Now the poison burned like fire, and it was fiercer than the flame and the furnace, and the majesty of the great god said,

‘I consent that Isis shall search into me, and that my name shall pass from me into her.

Then the god hid himself from the gods, and his place in the Boat of Millions of Years was empty. And when the time had arrived for the heart of Rā to come forth, Isis spake unto her son Horus, saying,

‘The god hath bound himself by oath to deliver up his two Eyes (i.e., the Sun and the Moon).’

Thus was the name of the great god taken from him, and Isis, the lady of words of magical power, said,

‘Depart, thou poison, go forth from Rā. O Eye of Horus, go forth from the god, and shine outside his mouth. It is I who work, it is I who make to fall down upon the earth the vanquished poison, for the name of the great god hath been taken away from him. Let Rā live, and let the poison die ! Let the poison die, and let Rā live!’

These are the words of Isis, the mighty lady, the mistress of the gods, who knew Rā by his own name.”

The above text was to be recited over figures of Temu, “the Bull of his mother,” and Horus, and Isis and Horus, and there is little doubt that these figures were made to represent the various scenes which took place when Rā was poisoned, and when the goddess Isis succeeded in taking from him his name.


Revolt of Men against the sun-god Rā

Another myth of Rā of considerable interest is that which describes the destruction of mankind, and tells how men scorned the great Sun-god because he had become old;[3] the text of this, in a mutilated condition, is found inscribed upon the walls of the tombs of Seti I. and Rameses IV. at Thebes, and from it the following is clear.

“[Rā is] the god who created himself after he had risen in sovereignty over men, and gods, as well as over things, the One. And mankind was uttering words of complaint, saying,

‘Behold now, his Majesty, life, strength, and health [to him] ! hath become old, his bones are like silver, his limbs are like gold, and his hair is like unto real lapis-lazuli.’

Now his majesty heard the words which mankind spake [concerning him], and he said unto those who were following him,

‘Cry out, and bring ye unto me mine Eye, and Shu, and Tefnut, and Seb, and Nut, and the fathers and the mothers who were with me when I was in Nu, together with my god Nu. Let him bring his ministers with him, and let them be brought silently, so that mankind may not perceive it and take to flight with their hearts.

Come thou with them to the Great House, and let them declare their plans, for I will go forth from Nu unto the place wherein I performed creations, and let those [gods] be brought unto me there.’

Now the gods were on both sides of Rā, and they bowed down even to the ground in presence of his Majesty, and he spake his words in the presence of the father of the firstborn gods, the maker of men, and the king of those who have knowledge.

And they spake before his Majesty, [saying],

‘Speak unto us, for we are listening’;

and Rā spake unto Nu, saying,

‘O thou firstborn god, from whom I came into being, O ye gods [my] ancestors, behold ye what mankind is doing, they who were created by mine Eye are uttering murmurs against me. Give me your attention, and seek ye out a plan for me, and I will not slay them until ye shall say [what I am to do] concerning: it.’

Then the Majesty of the god Nu, the son of Rā, spake [saying], Thou art the god who art greater than he that made thee, and who art the sovereign of those who were created by him, thy throne is set, and the fear of thee is great; let then thine Eye be upon those who have uttered blasphemies against thee.’

And the Majesty of Rā spake [saying],

‘Behold ye how they have taken flight into the mountain!

Their hearts are afraid because of what they have said.’

Then the gods spake before his Majesty, saying,

‘Make thine Eye to go forth, and let it destroy for thee those who utter evil words of blasphemy against thee. There is not an eye upon all this earth which can resist thine when it descendeth in the form of Hathor.’

And the goddess [Hathor] Avent forth and slew the people on the mountain, and the Majesty of this god spake, [saying],

‘come, come in peace, Hathor, the work is accomplished.’

And the goddess said,

‘Thou livest for me. When I had gained the mastery over men it was well pleasing to my heart.’

And the Majesty of Rā spake, [saying],

‘I will gain the mastery over them as king, and [I] will destroy them’;

and it came to pass that Sekhet waded about in the night season in their blood, beginning at Suten-ḥenen (Herakleopolis Magna).

Then the Majesty of Rā spake, [saying],

‘Cry out and fetch me swift and speedy messengers who can run like the wind’;

and straightway one brought these messengers.

And the Majesty of this god spake, [saying],

‘Let them go to Ābu (Elephantine), and bring me mandrakes in great number’ ;

and one brought to him these mandrakes, and the Majesty of this god gave them to Sekhet who [dwelleth] in Ȧnnu (Heliopolis) to crush. And behold, when the women were crushing the barley to [make] beer, he placed these mandrakes in the vessels which were to hold the beer, and some of the blood of the men [who had been slain]. Now they made seven thousand vessels of beer.

Now when the king of the South and North, Rā, had come with the gods to look at the beer, and the daylight appeared after the goddess had slaughtered mankind in their season as she sailed up the river, the Majesty of Rā said,

‘It is doubly good, but I must protect mankind against her.’

And Rā spake, [saying],

‘Let them take up the vases and carry them to the place where men and women are being slaughtered.’

Then the Majesty of the king of the South and North, Rā, commanded them to pour out from the vessels during the [time of the] beauty of the night the beer which made [men] wish to lie down, and the regions of the four heavens were filled therewith even according to the Will of the Majesty of this god.

Now when the goddess Sekhet came in the morning and found the regions flooded, her face beamed with joy, and she drank of the beer and blood, and her heart was glad, and she became drunk, and she took no further heed of mankind.

And the Majesty of Rā spake unto this goddess, [saying]

‘Come, come in peace, O fair and gracious goddess;’

[and henceforth] there were young and beautiful women in the city of Amen.[4] Then the Majesty of Rā said unto this goddess,

‘There shall be prepared for thee vases of drink which shall make thee wish to sleep at every festival of the New Year, and the number thereof shall be in proportion to the number of my handmaidens;’

and from that day until this present men have been wont to make on the occasions of the festival of Hathor vases of beer which will make them sleep, in number according to the number of the handmaidens of Rā.

And the Majesty of Rā spake unto this goddess, [saying],

‘Behold, the pain of the burning heat of sickness hath come upon me ; whence cometh [this] pain?’

Then the Majesty of Rā said,

‘I am alone, but my heart hath become exceedingly weary of being with them (i.e., with men); I have slain [some of] them, but there is a remnant of worthless ones, and the destruction which I wrought among them was not commensurate with my power.’

And the gods who were in his train said [unto him], Tarry not in thy weariness, for thy might is in proportion to thine own will.’

Then the Majesty of this god said unto the Majesty of Nu,

‘For the first time my limbs have lost their power, and I will never permit this thing to happen a second time.’”


The Cow-goddess Nut

At this point the inscription becomes much broken, and it is difficult, to make out the general meaning which is to be attached to the scattered words ; according to the late Dr. Brugsch,[5] the myth ends somewhat as follows:—

image right: The Cow-goddess Nut.

When Rā had described his weariness to Nu, this god commanded Shu to perform the work of Rā and to take the place of his Eye, and directed the sky goddess Nut to help Rā. Nut asked Nu how this was to be done, and he told her to take Rā upon her back ; thereupon Nut took the form of a cow, and Rā seated himself upon her back. In due course mankind saw Rā on the back of Nut, and they were filled with remorse at their former behaviour towards him, and they wished to see slain his enemies who had blasphemed him, but his Majesty did not tarry, and he went on into the temple.

On the following day as soon as the morning had come, men went forth armed with bows and spears in order to do battle with the enemies of Rā, and as soon as the god saw this he said to them,

“Your sins are forgiven you, for the sacrificial slaughters which ye have made have done away with the murders [which mine enemies have committed].”

Then Rā raised himself from the back of the goddess Nut into the sky, where he made for himself a kingdom in which all people were to be assembled. Finally he ordered a Field to come into being, ḥetep sekhet, and straight way the Field of Hetep (“Peace”),Sekhet-ḥetep;[6] came into being, and the Majesty of the god said,

“I will plant ( ȧarȧṭ-ȧ, literally, I will make to grow) green herbs therein,”

and straightway there came into being Sekhet-ȧaru,[7] ,

“and I will plenish it with objects which sparkle,[8] that is to say with stars.”

Thereupon the goddess Nut quaked in all her members, and Rā declared that he would make supports to come into existence to strengthen her, and straightway supports appeared. Rā next ordered his son Shu to place himself beneath the goddess Nut, who was trembling, in such a way as to support her body, and he ordered him to take heed to the supports, or pillars, whereon the goddess rested, and to protect them, and to keep Nut stayed upon his head.

Near this place in the text we have a representation of the great cow-goddess Nut, i.e., the heavens and the sky (see opposite). Along the belly of the cow, which is emblematic of the sky, and is supported by the god Shu, are thirteen stars, and immediately below are the two boats of the Sun-god. In the Māṭet boat stands a figure of Rā as god of the day, with a disk upon his head, and in the Sektet boat we see the god seated in a shrine ; the former boat is between the fore-legs of the cow of Nut, and the latter by her udders. Each leg of the cow is supported by two gods, one in front and one behind, and each god who is with the cow has a special name, which is duly set forth in the text which runs in vertical columns on each side of the scene.[9]


Thoth, Vicar Of Rā

When the narrative recommences (line 56) we are told that the Majesty of the god Rā commanded Thoth to give the order that the god Seb, or Sab,(whom Brugsch calls “Keb”), should come into his presence forthwith, and when he had done so, and Seb had appeared before him, Rā told him that strife had arisen by reason of the worms (or snakes),, which were in his (i.e., Seb’s) territory, and, he added,

“May they fear me as long as I am alive.”

Rā also told him to find out what their plans were, and then to go to the place wherein was his father Nu, and to warn him to be careful about what was on the earth and in the water. The text which immediately follows is full of difficulty, but its general meaning seems to be that Rā expects Seb to keep watch on the serpents in the earth, and that although he is about to betake himself to the uppermost regions of heaven his light will find them in their holes, and will watch them. Moreover, Rā promises that he will give the men who have knowledge of words of power,, dominion over them, and that he will furnish them with spells and charms which shall draw them from their holes.

After these things the Majesty of the god Rā ordered that Thoth should come into his presence speedily, and when he had arrived he said to him,

“Come, let us depart from heaven, and from my place, because I am about to create a thing of light () of the god of light (), in the Ṭuat () and in the Land of Babat ().

And there thou shalt write down for punishment among the dwellers therein those who have committed deeds of rebellion, and those whom my heart hateth. And thou shalt be in my place ( ȧst), and thou shalt be called Ȧsti (), that is to say, the deputy of Rā.

And it shall be permitted to thee to send for thy messenger ( hab), and at these words the ibis ( habi), which is the envoy of Thoth, came into being.”

Rā next tells Thoth that he will give him the power to lift up his hand before the great companies of the gods, , and makes a play on the words khen , and Tekhni , a bird sacred to Thoth;

he also promises to make Thoth to embrace ȧnḥ, the two heavens with his beauties, and straightway the Moon, , came into being. Thoth is to drive back,  ān the Ḥa-nebu, , and straightway the Ape, ānān, of the god came into being; and finally Thoth is to be wholly the representative of Rā upon earth.


The King's Soul

From the observations which follow the words of Rā we can see how holy these words were considered to be. Any one who wished to repeat them must anoint his face with oil, and rub his hands and the places behind his ears with incense, and cleanse his mouth with natron, and wash his new apparel in Nile water, and put on white sandals, and lay a figure of Maāt upon his tongue ; and he must cleanse himself with a sevenfold cleansing each day for three whole days.

Finally, the king (Seti I.) for whom these texts were written declares that his soul is the soul

of Shu,
and [Khnemu],
and Neḥeḥ, ,
and Kek, ,
and Ḳerḥṣ, ,
and Nu,
and Rā,
and Ȧsȧr-Ba-Ṭeṭṭeṭ,
and the souls of the Sebȧk gods, ,
and of the Crocodiles,
and the soul of every god in the form of a serpent, ,
and the soul of Āpep,
and of Rā in all the earth.

Footnotes and references:


Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, part xvii., pi. 50; and see E. C, Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, vol. i., Introduction, at the end.


The hieratic text will be found in Pleyte and Rossi, Le Papyrus de Turin, 1869-1876; pll. 31-37, and 131-138; and a transcript into hieroglyphics with a transliteration and translation in my First Steps in Egyptian, 1S95, pp. 241-256. A French translation by Lefébure was published in Aeg. Zeit., 1S83, pp. 27 ff ; and for English renderings see my Papyrus of Ani, 1895, p. lxxxix., and Egyptian Magic, p. 137.


For the hieroglyphic text see Lefébure, Tombeau de Seti I., part iv., pll. 15-18; Brugsch, Die neue Weltordnung, Berlin, 1881 ; Naville in Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., iv., pp. 1 ff. ; viii., pp. 412 ff. ; Bergmann, Hist. Inschrift., pll. 75-82; and my First Steps in Egyptian, pp. 218-230.


Here there is a pun on the appellation of the goddess Amit , and on the name of the city Amen, , i.e., the capital of the nome, Ȧment, where the goddess Hathor was worshipped. The city is also called , and the “city of Apis.”


Die Neue Weltordnung nach Vernichtung des sündigen Menschengeschlechtes,von H. Brugsch, Berlin, 1881, p. 23.


Note the jingle in the words sekhet and ḥetep.


Note the play on the verbal ȧaraṭ-ȧ and the noun ȧaru.


Note the jingle in  khet, “objects,” and  “things which sparkle.”


See Lefébure, Tombeau de Seti I., part iv., pi. 16, 11. 47 ff.

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