Want to know more about the 9 main goddesses of ancient Egypt? Want to know who is Isis, know what are her links with Bastet, Horus, Set, and Osiris?
Passionate about Egypt, our team has prepared an article describing the main goddesses of Egypt!
The best known of the Egyptian goddesses is Isis, the goddess of magic and secrets. Isis is a key actress in the Egyptian "myth of Osiris". Then come other goddesses who also have an important role in the history of Egypt such as Bastet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nephthys, and Maat.
In this article, you will discover:
- The three founding goddesses of the ancient Egyptian religion: Isis, Nephthys, and Hathor (because present in the myth of the assassination of the god Osiris)
- The other important goddesses of the ancient Egyptian religion: Nut, Bastet, Sekhmet, Maat, Wadjet, and Nekhbet
After this article, you will know all about the greatest myths of ancient Egypt and the goddesses involved in them.
Let's discover all this without further delay!
Isis is probably the best known Egyptian goddess of ancient Egypt. One reason for her popularity is her role in the famous myth of Osiris.
I) The myth of Osiris
In the myth of Osiris, Isis is the sister and wife of the god-pharaoh Osiris.
At the beginning of this myth, Osiris ruled Egypt alongside Isis. Endowed with exemplary righteousness and superior intelligence, Osiris initially succeeds in bringing peace and prosperity to Egypt. However, the brother of Osiris and Isis, Set, prepares to assassinate Osiris because he is immensely jealous of Osiris.
At a great feast in honor of Osiris and Isis, Set will bring a luxurious chest previously carved to Osiris' dimensions. Set then proposes to offer this chest to whoever will manage to get inside. Of course, all the guests fail except Osiris, who, when it is his turn to try the chest, finds himself locked inside by Set and his followers. Set throws the chest into the Nile and Osiris drowns.
As soon as Osiris is installed in the chest, Set nails the opening of the chest and drowns Osiris. Thus, according to this myth, the chest became the first alleged "sarcophagus" in Egyptian history.
However, Isis will succeed in finding Osiris in the Nile and bring him back to life by growing bird wings and flapping his wings over his inert body. Osiris is resurrected for a single night, allowing Isis to become pregnant with a child: Horus.
II) Isis in the myth of the resurrection of Osiris
Isis then prepares a ritual to bring Osiris back to life once and for all. However, before she has had time to finish her preparations, Set discovers the body of Osiris and cuts it into fourteen pieces that he hides throughout Egypt.
Isis is dejected by this event. Her tears will attract Nephthys (the last of the siblings of Osiris, Set, and Isis, married to Set and thus her sister-wife) and Anubis (the adulterous son of Nephthys and Osiris and thus the nephew of Isis).
Isis, Nephthys, and Anubis set out in search of the fourteen pieces of the body of Osiris. However, after having found 13 of them, they discover that the 14th piece (namely, the penis of Osiris) was eaten by a fish of the Nile and digested by the latter: Osiris is thus reconstituted with only 13 of his 14 pieces.
Incompletely reconstituted, Osiris can no longer remain in the realm of the living to reign there. Osiris thus leaves for the realm of the dead of which he will become the king. Set is left as the sole ruler of Egypt.
Fortunately, Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, will attempt to regain his father's throne as an adult. Horus will face and defeat Set in a series of trials organized by the supreme Egyptian god Ra to determine whether Horus or Set is more worthy of reigning over Egypt.
Nephthys is the sister of Isis, Osiris and Set. Nephthys marries Set but quickly falls in love with Osiris when he sees him carrying out his mission as monarch of Egypt. One night, she disguises herself as Isis to be able to mislead Osiris and thus have sexual relations with the latter who would take her for his wife, Isis. From this illegitimate union, Nephthys becomes pregnant with Anubis.
However, Nephthys is afraid that Set will be angry when he learns the existence of Anubis, conceived with Osiris. So she abandons the newborn to certain death in the desert. Fortunately, Anubis is fed for a few days by jackals before being found by Isis who will raise him as her own son.
The adultery of Nephthys contributes greatly to the jealousy of Set of Osiris. Thus, Nephthys participates indirectly in the future murder of Osiris by Set which will take place a few years after his adultery.
Hathor is best known as the wife of the falcon-headed god Horus, who will take back Egypt from the evil god Set. Hathor is the goddess of love, joy, and beauty. The goddess is frequently depicted with horns holding the Sun between them. She is also sometimes depicted with a cow's head.
Nut is the personification of the sky and its stars. The goddess is shown as a naked blue woman being carried by her husband, Geb, the god representing the Earth (who "carries" her because the Earth, flat according to the ancient Egyptians, is always below the sky).
According to the religion of the ancient Egyptians, in the beginning, there was only a sky of Darkness, empty of all things, facing an infinite ocean. After many contacts between the Darkness and the ocean, a first form of life emerged: Atum.
Since Atum was not strong enough to create life on his own, a deity created himself to help him: the falcon-Sun god Ra. Ra mixed harmoniously the Darkness and the ocean to give life to the first pair of gods: Shu and Tefnut.
As shown in the family tree above, Nut is the daughter of Shu (the incarnation of air) and Tefnut (the incarnation of the warmth of the Sun). In turn, Nut had 4 children with her brother and husband Geb: Isis, Nephthys, Osiris, and Set (who will play a great role in the future of the world, as we saw earlier in this article).
Bastet (or Bast) is the cat-headed goddess of "all that is pleasant". Bastet is one of the few Egyptian deities to had a city named after her: Bubastis.
In Egyptian mythology, Bastet defends the Sun god Ra as he navigates the Underworld.
Indeed, because the world is flat according to the ancient Egyptians, each night Ra (who carries the Sun on his head) must bring the Sun from west to east to illuminate the world for a new day (the Sun rising in the east).
However, when Ra passes through the subterranean realm below the presumed flat Earth, he is attacked by the evil giant serpent Apep, whose purpose is to devour Ra and the Sun. Thus, Bastet fights each night against Apep so that the world will not be deprived of the Sun for eternity.
Sekhmet is the goddess of war and the desert.
It is she who was sent by Ra on Earth to destroy humanity to punish it after it has not respected the sacred laws decreed by Ra.
Fortunately for humanity, Ra accepts the shadowy part of mankind by understanding that it is this one that allows the free will of its members.
Thus, before Sekhmet had time to massacre all humans, Ra recalled Sekhmet to the heavens in order to save humanity.
Maat is the "winged goddess of justice" of ancient Egypt. Maat is the "winged goddess of justice" because she can cover her arms with feathers, and because she holds an important place in the Afterlife's judgment of the dead.
Indeed, in the ritual called the Weighing of Hearts, Maat detaches one of her feathers and places it on a scale to counterbalance the heart of a dead Egyptian. The difference in weight between the Maat's feather and the dead's heart will determine the fate of the soul to which the weighed heart belongs.
Since a Maat feather is extremely light (because it is a feather), the dead's heart must not be weighed down with too many sins for the scale to be balanced.
According to the judgment of the scale, hearts (and thus the Egyptian souls who own them) can experience two very different fates:
- If the heart is light, the "scale of righteousness" do not tip to the side of the heart (for the feather is heavier or as heavy as the heart). The soul is therefore a good one. Thus, the soul and its heart can go to the paradise of Osiris where an easy and safe life awaits them.
- If the heart is too heavy because it is weighed down with sins and crimes, the scales of justice tip to the side of the heart. The soul to which the heart belongs is found guilty of evil deeds. That soul is then devoured by the soul devouring goddess Ammit. A soul so devoured is deprived of eternal existence in the Hereafter, which is the greatest dishonor imaginable for an Egyptian.
8) The animal goddesses Wadjet and Nekhbet
The goddesses Wadjet and Nekhbet are two of the few deities without human representations.
Indeed, they are only represented in the form of a female cobra for Wadjet and a female vulture for Nekhbet.
These two goddesses each represent one half of the Egyptian territory to which a half-crown of pharaoh is associated for each one:
- Wadjet represents Lower Egypt (the southern part of Egypt). She wears the Decheret crown (see image below).
- Nekhbet represents Upper Egypt (the northern part of Egypt). She wears the Hedjet crown.
When a pharaoh wears the Pschent composed of the two crowns of Wadjet and Nekhbet, he "shows" that these goddesses accompany him. Thus, he declares to all that his power over the lands of the Nile country is unquestionable because he is chosen by the gods themselves.
The goddesses of Egypt
You now know all about the most important goddesses of the Egyptian civilization. Indeed, we have looked together:
- Who were Isis, Nephthys, and Hathor, the goddesses strongly involved in the myth of Osiris.
- Who were the important goddesses Nut, Bastet, Sekhmet, and Maat.
- Who were the goddesses Wadjet and Nekhbet representing the unification of Egypt.
To go even deeper into the heart of Egypt, why not bring home some pieces that refer to the Egypt of Isis and Anubis?!
Indeed, on Egyptian History, you will find Egyptian jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, rings, and signet signs) linked to ancient Egyptian myths.
To discover them, simply click on the image below.