The Egyptian Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends
Garry J. Shaw
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An authoritative guide to the Egyptian myths that sheds new light on an ancient way of understanding the world
This survey of Egyptian mythology explores how the ancient Nile-dwellers explained the world around them. It delves into the creation and evolution of the world and the reigns of the gods on earth, before introducing us to the manifestations of Egypt’s deities in the natural environment; the inventive ways in which the Egyptians dealt with the invisible forces all around them; and their beliefs about life after death.
Through his engaging narrative, Garry Shaw guides us through the mythic adventures of such famous deities as Osiris, the god murdered by his jealous brother Seth; the magical and sometimes devious Isis, who plotted to gain the power of the sun god Re; and Horus, who defeated his uncle Seth to become king of Egypt. He also introduces us to lesser known myths, such as the rebellions against Re; Geb’s quest for Re’s magical wig; and the flaying of the unfortunate god Nemty. From stars and heavenly bodies sailing on boats, to the wind as manifestation of the god Shu, to gods, goddesses, ghosts, and demons―beings that could be aggressive, helpful, wise, or dangerous―Shaw goes on to explain how the Egyptians encountered the mythological in their everyday lives.
Victory over Seth, Geb presides over a court hearing, convened to decide who should be king of Egypt; Seth’s crimes are reported during the proceedings and Horus (supported by Thoth) is given a verdict in his favour. He receives deeds of inheritance and is crowned king, while Seth is exiled to the land of the Asiatics. Another version of the tale, inscribed on the Shabaqo Stone, now in the British Museum, again presents events a little differently. Here Geb, acting as judge, separates Horus and
many days until Horus finally prevailed. Captured, Seth was then brought to the young king in chains, but Isis refused to execute him, infuriating Horus, who removed Isis’ royal diadem in his fit of anger; Thoth, ever a calm presence, simply replaced it with a helmet in the shape of a cow’s head. Seth accused Horus of being illegitimate, but Thoth defended Horus and proved his right to the throne. SETH RETURNS TO POWER After Horus had ascended the throne, Seth attempted to regain power, taking
composed) Khonsu was presented as a vicious deity, who helped the king absorb other gods’ strength by catching them and helping him to devour their bodies. As a cosmic deity, Khonsu could also be shown as a falcon-headed man. Sometimes, the lunar god in question is depicted at the centre of the full moon, otherwise the wedjat-eye – the restored eye of Horus – might be shown. Each of the 15 days leading to a full moon was presided over by a different god (Thoth first), who on each day performed
the first mound of creation, could sometimes, by extension, represent all fertile land emerging from the receding inundation, and even Egypt itself. The Egyptians divided their country into Delta and Nile Valley – Lower and Upper Egypt respectively – which were themselves subdivided into a series of administrative sepauwt (districts or provinces) better known today by their Greek name, nomes. Their number varied over time: by the later phases of Egyptian history there were 42 nomes, 20 in Lower
mythic narrative each day. Gods, as personalized forces, were present in every facet of the created world and mythic precedents could be cited as explanations for both extraordinary and mundane events, linking the individual to the world of the gods. Moreover, by invoking mythic events, the Egyptians assimilated themselves with their deities. A person with a headache became Horus the Child, cared for by his mother, who herself became Isis; in death, the deceased transformed into various gods