Would you like to know how Ra, the Sun god of ancient Egypt, created the Universe according to Egyptian mythology? You wish to know the myth of the "Solar Boat" opposing Ra to the terrible snake god Apep?
Friends of Egyptian mythology and its stories, today we are going to present you the legends surrounding the god Ra.
Father of all the gods in the Egyptian pantheon, the god Ra is the falcon-headed Sun god who created the Universe. Ra is present in many myths such as that of Sekhmet, that of Osiris, and that of the Solar Boat.
In this article, you will discover:
- The creation of humanity by Ra
- The near extermination of humanity by Ra
- The eternal fight between Ra and the serpent god Apep
At the bottom of this page, you will know all about the Sun god of Egypt of the Egyptian pharaohs.
Now we can discover all this together!
1) Who is Ra?
This Sun god Ra was considered the king and father of all gods and was considered the principal deity of ancient Egypt.
In his human form, Ra is most often depicted as a hawk-headed man carrying on his head a red disk representing the Sun that Ra created at the beginning of the world.
Note that this Sun disk is always surrounded by a cobra. This cobra is the goddess Wadjet who protect Ra when the latter illuminate the Universe during the day.
2) The Myth of Ra
A) The creation of the Egyptian world
In the beginning, in Egyptian mythology, there was only an immense and infinite original Ocean facing a celestial vault of Darkness, also infinite.
When a light breath of life rose from the very frequent small shocks between the Darkness and the Ocean, the physical form of this breath of life, called Atum, decided that it was time for creation to begin. Atum concentrated all his energy to bring a tiny island out of the Ocean.
Spontaneously, the god Ra answered the call of life. This god born of himself as a colossal falcon Sun god with the ability to illuminate and heat the Ocean and the dark and icy Darkness. On the island of Atum that Ra gradually enlarged, he created with some sand the first couple of gods, Shu (the original Air) and his wife Tefnut (the original Humidity).
These two divine beings had two children who thus completed the cosmos and made the darkness disappear completely: Geb (the god of the Earth) and Nut (the goddess of Heaven).
In its turn, this new couple of gods gave birth to Osiris, a perfect being, who had the role of reigning with the greatest benevolence over humanity, coming out of the tears of Ra, moved by the beauty of what he had created.
Ra was not created by Atum, the falcon god created himself for the voluntary purpose to help Atum.
B) The myth of Sekhmet
Unfortunately, the perfect reign of Osiris did not last long. Jealous of Osiris' perfection, his brother Set killed him by cutting him into fourteen pieces to take his throne.
Although Osiris was later resurrected by Ra, one of his fourteen pieces was not found. As a result, Osiris was unable to return to the world of the living and became the god of the Duat (the Egyptian world of the dead).
Deprived of a perfect leader, mankind rebelled against Ra, far from Earth at this moment (as he worked to perfect the creation of the stars). The god of the Sun, feeling betrayed, decided to exterminate mankind with the same eye that had created it.
His eye then turned into a fierce lioness (namely, the lion goddess Sekhmet) who began to mercilessly slaughter human beings. At the sight of this terrible carnage, Ra took pity on his once beloved children. He thus stopped the annihilation by ordering Sekhmet to become his eye again.
After these terrible events, Ra went into exile in the heavens, covering the world from afar with his light.
C) Ra and Apep
According to the "myth of Ra," the Egyptian Sun god illuminated the world by traveling in a ship called the "Sun Boat" or the "Boat of a Million Years" (so called because it was supposed to be an eternal ship).
Ra had to sail on his Sun Boat by day (a fairly easy task) and cross the world of the dead at night (a more complicated task because of the evil spirits and monsters that had to be fought during this crossing). To help him in his mission, Ra had formed a wonderful crew of gods formed by:
- Set, the god of chaos: of immense strength capable of unleashing storms and lightning on the assailants of the night.
- Thoth, the ibis-headed god of knowledge: able to steer the ship through the darkness of the underworld.
- Maat, the winged goddess of justice: providing magical protection for the other members of the Sun Boat's crew.
Among the attacking monsters, the most fearsome was Apep (or Apophis), a giant serpent embodying "forces of Darkness." Allegedly as big as the Nile River, Apep is a divine snake whose only goal is to eat the source of light of the Universe, that is . . . Ra.
3) The myths of Ra
It would be a pity to end this account here without mentioning the role that the Sun god played in two great founding myths of Egypt's polytheistic religion.
In this third part, we will explore together the myth of Osiris (recounting the murder of Osiris by his brother Set) and the myth of the conflict between Set and Horus after Osiris' death.
A) The myth of Osiris
When the Earth was created, Ra brought forth Shu (the air) and Tefnut (the solar furnace). The latter had as children Geb and Nut, who in turn had as children Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.
Together, these nine initial gods (Ra, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys) formed the group of the most important gods of Egypt called the "divine procession" or the "Great Ennead of Heliopolis" (see the family tree below).
The four last born of the great Ennead of Heliopolis (Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys) are very important gods because they are the actors of the most famous myth in Egyptian mythology: "the Myth of Osiris".
The myth of Osiris begins with a terrible drama. At the beginning of it, Osiris reigns as a god-pharaoh over all of Egypt. He is married to his sister Isis, while his brother Set is married to his other sister Nephthys. Osiris by his wisdom and intelligence brings prosperity, greatness, and happiness to his nation and is admired by all.
All? No because gradually his brother Set begins to develop resentment towards his Osiris. First, because Osiris succeeds absolutely everything he undertakes. Then, because Set's wife, Nephthys, falls in love with Osiris.
Set will thus assassinate Osiris. To do so, Set will have a large and magnificent chest made, richly endowed with precious stones and gilding. This chest also has an important specificity: it is perfectly in the shape of Osiris to be able to welcome him in its bosom.
Set will then organize a great feast in honor of Osiris. During this feast, Set will decide to offer the chest to any guest who manages to fit into the chest so that the lid of the chest can be completely closed.
Obviously, all the guests fail: as the chest is specifically carved on a plan of Osiris' morphology, it is impossible to fit the entire interior of the chest.
When it is Osiris' turn, the latter is surprised twice: firstly, because he finds the trunk completely at his size and therefore very comfortable. Then, because as soon as he gets inside, Set and his accomplices throw themselves on the chest, weld and nail the opening of the chest, and throw it into the Nile.
Osiris then drowns, and the chest becomes the allegedly first Egyptian "sarcophagus."
This sarcophagus chest will be carried away by the Nile's current. It will then become trapped in the roots of a small tree in a neighboring country on the banks of the Egyptian River.
Over time, fed by the divine blood of Osiris, this tree will grow at a supernatural rate. This tree will then become so large and majestic that it will be chosen by a king to be the central pillar of his palace.
Sad fate for a sovereign as just and good as Osiris.
Many years later, after a long search, the wife of Osiris, Isis, entered the famous palace in question.
This palace impresses the whole ancient world by its immense pillar. Disguised as an old woman, Isis then goes to save the son of the king holder of the rich palace (this son being afflicted with a mortal and incurable disease but that Isis, as goddess of the magic, knew how to cure).
In gratitude, the king offers Isis the right to ask him for any present. Isis will claim the pillar. Man of word, the king makes dismantle his palace: Isis can recover the body of Osiris!
Now that she has the body of Osiris, Isis will prepare to make return this last one from the kingdom of the dead. She will start with a test and will succeed in resuscitating Osiris initially only during one single night (which will allow Isis to get pregnant with Horus, the future falcon-headed god of Egypt).
However, Isis will not have time to go further in her research to resurrect her husband definitively. Set, on a hunting party celebrating a great Egyptian festival, finds the body of Osiris and cuts it into fourteen pieces.
With the help of Nephthys and Anubis (the jackal god son of Osiris and Nephthys), Isis will succeed in gathering thirteen of the fourteen pieces. However, the last piece (namely, the penis of Osiris) will be eaten by a fish before it can be found. Thus, Isis will never be able to reconstitute Osiris in its entirety.
Finally, after Osiris' death, Set was able to ascend the throne of Egypt. After his death, Osiris became the god of the dead and of eternal life in the Egyptian underworld (for he could no longer reign over the world of the living because of his "incomplete" body).
However, the story of Ra's great-grandchildren does not end there, for the son of Osiris, Horus, will claim the throne of Set.
B) Set and Horus
The last of the myths and legends in which Ra is involved is the myth of the conflict between Set and Horus.
Many years after his father's death, Horus (a falcon-headed god like his ancestor Ra) went to the wisest of the gods for advice on how to claim his ascension to the throne of Egypt. He argued before a council composed of Ra, Shu (the god of air), and Thoth (the ibis god of knowledge) that the throne of the Nile country was rightfully his as the son of Osiris.
Immediately, Shu and Thoth took the side of Horus in this unjust situation. They agreed with Horus, giving Set a few days to abdicate in favor of the falcon god. Ra, however, as the oldest of the gods and creator of the Universe, was offended that his opinion was not asked first. He thus declared that Set had every right to rule because he remained the brother of Osiris.
The council of the gods agreed to pit Set against Horus in a long series of trials so that they could determine who was the worthiest.
According to this myth, Set and Horus will then compete in many tests: various duels and competitions of physical abilities are organized by the trio of the jury. However, in each of them, Set will cheat and win.
One can however note a turning point in this myth: the trial where Set and Horus must turn into a hippopotamus, dive to the bottom of the Nile in this form, and hold their breath as long as possible.
This time, Isis begins to worry about her son's ability to win any trial. So, she will create a magic harpoon to bring Set to the surface (which would make him lose the event). Isis succeeds, yet, Horus is furious of this lack of maternal confidence. Angry, he decapitates Isis (that Thoth will later resurrect) and falls asleep in top of a mountain.
Set will abuse this situation by tearing out Horus' left eye while he sleeps. He will then cut his eye into six parts and scatter them throughout Egypt.
Thoth, as a particularly benevolent god, will try to reconstruct this eye. However, Thoth will find only five of the six pieces of the eye. Thoth will therefore choose to create an enchanted sixth piece himself that will give new properties to the reconstructed eye. The famous "eye of Horus" (able to see the future) is born.
The myth of the fight between Set and Horus has become very famous in our modern culture. It is especially found in many books, movies, series, and video games (the image above is from the online game Smite, for example).
In spite of this new abuse of Set, it is Horus whom the council of the gods will punish for having raised the hand on his mother. Ra, Shu, and Thoth gives Set the right to choose one final test that will determine who will be the new ruler of Egypt.
So, Set proposes to the council a last very memorable event: a race on the Nile in boats made of stones.
Horus panics and fears of losing this final event and tries his hand at cunning. He then builds a boat made of wood, but covers it with limestone plaster to simulate the construction of a boat made only of stone.
On the day of the challenge, Set tears a mountain from the Earth to make his boat. Of course, much too heavy to float, the mountain immediately sinks to the bottom of the water.
Mad with rage to see Horus making fun of him following this disastrous event, Set throws himself on Horus and his boat.
Horus' trickery explodes in broad daylight. The council of gods can see that Horus has cheated by not respecting the rules initially set.
Thus, not knowing who to choose between the cheater and the bad loser, the three gods will ask for advice from the wise Osiris, now residing in the underworld.
Set learns the hard way that a mountain doesn't float!
Osiris declares that Set, as regicidal and fratricidal, can never become king of Egypt. The throne of Egypt thus reverts by right to his son Horus.
To mark his decision, Osiris calls the stars and the Sun, his former allies, to join him in his underground kingdom to bend the council. The world is now plunged into darkness. The reasoning of Osiris being valid, the three gods agree with Osiris.
Dismissed from his pharaonic power, Set no longer possesses immunity protecting him from the consequences of Osiris' murder. He is thus banished to the desert.
As for him, Horus marries the goddess of love Hathor and becomes a king of Egypt as good and just as his father.
4) The god Amun-Ra
Finally, so that you may know all about the place of Ra in the Egyptian pantheon, it is important that we tell you about Ra in his "Amun-Ra" form of god.
A) The creator god of Egypt
During the period known as the "New Kingdom of Egypt" (a period from 1550 to 1069 BC), the gods Ra and Amun became increasingly popular. If Ra was regarded as the creator god of the Universe, Amun was granted the creation of life (implying that Ra did not create mankind and animals with a tear in this version of the Egyptian mythology).
Thus, according to Egyptian myths dating back to the "New Kingdom of Egypt," Amun created life by turning himself into a goose to lay a giant primordial egg and then turning himself into a snake to incubate and fertilize that egg. From this egg came all that was not created by Ra: animals, people, and plants (that is, everything that is not mineral such as the Earth, the Sun, and the stars).
Later, carried by the adoration of the people, these two creator gods will gradually become the principal gods of Egypt. The other gods of the Egyptian pantheon are thus set back from this duo (without erasing their existence).
Even later, the two gods themselves will merge to form the god Amun-Ra. Amun-Ra will then be a combination of two gods and will be considered the creator god of all that exists (for being the "creator of the Universe" according to the myth of Ra and the "creator of life" according to the myth of Amun).
Amun-Ra is depicted as a hawk-headed man with a Sun above his head (as Ra was). Less frequently, Amun-Ra is also sometimes depicted as a ram-headed man (as Amun was).
B) The god Aten
In 1353 BC, the Sun represented as a multi-handed solar disk personified as the god Aten will totally eclipse Amun-Ra. Indeed, for 18 years, Aten was elevated to the rank of supreme god by the "heretic pharaoh" Akhenaten.
Aten is represented as a solar disc with many hands (as you can seen in the image below). Some of these hands carry ankh crosses and are intended to bring light and fertility to the Earth .
Indeed, from the beginning of his reign in 1353 BC, Akhenaten launched several great religious reforms. These reforms aimed at making everyone forget the existence of Amun-Ra (to promote the supremacy of the solar deity Aten):
- Born under the name "Amenhotep IV" (a name in reference to the god Amun-Ra: "Amen-hotep" being very close from "Amun-hotep"), Akhenaten changed his name. His new name will include the name of the new unique god of Egypt ("Akhen-Aten").
- Akhenaten promoted the cult of Aten, while at the same time suppressing other cults. Aten is regarded as the new principal deity of Upper and Lower Egypt and the creator of the Universe (he thus takes on the functions of Amun and Ra). Akhenaten wants to be the emissary on Earth of Aten.
- Akhenaten dissolved the great cult of Amun-Ra and had all the writings and statues referring to this "god of the past" destroyed. Akhenaten goes so far as to have the name of his father Amenhotep III removed from all the monuments of the country (because this name is based on "Amun-hotep").
- Akhenaten built the great city of Amarna in the honor of the god of the Sun Aten. This city which will mobilize all the forces of Egypt during its construction will carry out the prowess to be built in only three years for dimensions of 12 kilometers long by 3 wide.
However, the vision of an Aten "eternal god of Egypt" wanted by Akhenaten will never be accepted by Akhenaten's successors. Tutankhamun, the son of Akhenaten born under the name Tutankhaten ("Tutankh-Aten" in reference to Aten), will take the opposite way of his father. Tutankhaten will re-establish the cults of Amun-Ra and those of the ancient gods.
Later, to strengthen their authority, the pharaohs Seti I and his son Rameses II completely erased the myth of a "supreme god" Aten from the collective memory of the Egyptians. At the same time, they will completely erase the existence of the "heretic pharaoh" Akhenaten. This is the end of what was considered the first monotheistic religion in history!
The falcon-headed god
You now know everything that is hidden behind the falcon Sun god Ra:
- You now know the different myths that are attached to Ra (the myth of the Sun Boat, the myth of the eye of Ra, the myth of Osiris, the myth of Horus and Set).
- You now also know how the very important Egyptian gods Amun and Aten are linked to Ra.
If the mythology of ancient Egypt is something that interests you, know that on this site, we offers our readers necklaces, signet rings, bracelets, and rings bearing the legends of ancient Egypt!
We invite you to click on the image below to access our collection of eye of Horus necklaces.