Would you like to know more about the famous eye of Ra? Do you want to discover what myths are hidden behind this symbol of the Egyptian mythology? Or would you like to know who was Ra, the Egyptian Sun god?
Our team of ancient Egypt enthusiasts has prepared an article to answer all these questions!
The eye of Ra was the symbol of the omnipotence of the creator-god Ra. This eye was one of the most important emblems of ancient Egypt. It represented for the ancient Egyptians one of the key elements in the creation of the world and of the order's maintenance in the kingdom of Egypt.
In this article you will discover:
- What is the meaning of the eye of Ra
- How to differentiate it from the eye of Horus
- What myths are attached to the eye as well as to its holder
The story of the eye of Ra will soon have no more secrets for you.
I now invite you to plunge into the heart of this story!
1) The meaning of the eye of Ra
Before telling you about the eye of Ra, it would be wise to briefly introduce its owner.
Ra (also less frequently called Re) is undoubtedly the most important deity of ancient Egypt. He was considered to be the creator of the Universe. God of the Sun, in Egyptian mythology, he is the originator of life, light and heat. He is also the king of all gods of Egypt.
Ra is always depicted with a hawk's head, wearing the Sun disk on his head, a gold disk surrounded by a serpent: the cobra Uræus. According to the myths of ancient Egyptians, Ra is at the origin of all that is known and even still unknown. He is the one who governs the seasons, years, days and hours on board his solar boat, manage your time and store your watches thanks to a beautiful watch box (the best gift).
The cult of Ra took on a very specific dimension in ancient Egypt. Being the most influential deity in the religion of ancient Egypt, the Egyptians devoted an unparalleled cult to him. There were many temples erected in honor of Ra so that Egyptians could show their gratitude to the god who had created them and who protected them.
In the tombs and pyramids, the Egyptians pay homage to Ra since he is the one who welcomes the most virtuous Egyptians in the heavens.
Representations of the eye of Ra appear in large numbers in the tombs of the pharaohs since, according to Egyptian traditions, Ra was specifically waiting for them in the afterlife so that they could reign at his side for eternity. Furthermore, Ra is highly venerated in the city of Heliopolis (translated literally as Sun City) located in the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt.
Ra, the creator god of the Universe, represented here with a hawk's head and a solar disc above his head. In this mural, a mortal woman is making an offering to him.
Ra's eye has had a special meaning because it was the symbol of his creation's power. According to Egyptian myths, it was thanks to the tears that flowed from his eye that humanity was created.
In the myth of Sekhmet, the eye of Ra transforms itself into the goddess Sekhmet, the goddess punisher of humanity. Indeed, the eye of Ra was intended to repress the first men who flouted the rules of the gods such as war or murder.
2) Eye of ra and eye of horus
The eye of Ra should not be confused with the eye of Horus. However, it is very simple to distinguish a representation of an eye of Ra from a representation of an eye of Horus:
- The eye of Ra is the eye you see on the left (by inversion, if Ra looked at you with this eye, it would be his right eye!).
- The eye of Horus is the eye you see on the right (by inversion, if Horus was looking at you with this eye, it would be his left eye!).
According to the Egyptians, the eye of Ra, or the eye that sees everything, is characterised by the solar disc while the eye of Horus is represented by the Moon.
The eye of Horus (also known as the "Egyptian eye" or the "Udjat eye") has a completely different meaning. In the struggle for the Egyptian throne, Set and Horus faced each other in trials more perilous than the other.
In one of the clashes between the two deities, Set plucked out the eye of Horus and cut it into six separate pieces. Thoth (the ibis god of knowledge), not wanting the trials to be unequal, went in search of the fragments of the eye. Finding only five of the six pieces, he replaced the last fraction with a divine particle. The six pieces combined together became the legendary Udjat eye, allowing Horus to perceive the world beyond reality.
According to the Egyptians, the eye of Horus, worn in the form of a talisman, would provide its holder with unequalled protection both physically and spiritually. In ancient Egypt, this eye was considered to be a real good-luck charm. The eye of Horus was the equivalent of the Greek eye in the land of the Nile.
3) Who is Ra?
In this last part, we will see what are the different myths attached to Ra and more particularly to his eye.
A) The Egyptian god of the Sun
According to various representations dating from ancient Egypt, there was at the beginning only an immense, infinite original ocean facing a sky of darkness.
It appears that Ra would have been born of himself, thus bringing the world out of darkness and chaos. Ra is at the origin of all Egyptian gods because he is the father of Geb, the god of the earth, and of Nout, the goddess of the sky.
The latter gave birth to two boys, Osiris and Seth, and two girls, Isis and Nephthys. Osiris took his sister Isis as his wife while Set took Nephthys as his wife. The deities we have just mentioned are part of the Holy Ennead and are considered to be the most important gods in the Egyptian pantheon.
After having created the Earth, the Universe and the cosmos, Ra was so moved by the beauty of his creations that he shed a tear on the Earth: this is how humanity was born.
B) Ra and Sekhmet
First of all, it is necessary to know that the origin of the legend of the eye of Ra comes from the myth of Osiris:
According to the ancient texts of Egypt, Osiris is a wise and just person and it is precisely for these reasons that Ra designated him as his heir to the throne of Egypt. This arouses a deep feeling of jealousy in his brother Set, which leads him to murder Osiris.
This murder is one of the most famous in Egyptian mythology.
While Osiris does not suspect anything, Set decides to trap him during a banquet. The plan is simple: lock Osiris in a chest and then throw him into the Nile. Set then makes a sumptuous sarcophagus that he promises to give to the person who would be most comfortable in it.
Carved to Osiris's dimensions, it was the only one that could fit inside it. However, once Osiris was inside, Set closed the lid and threw the coffin into the water, causing his brother to drown. In order to make sure that Osiris was finally rid of him, Set cut his brother's body into fourteen separate pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt.
After this fratricide, Set seized power and thus became king of Egypt.
Yet, Ra, who had gone far from the earth and completed the creation of the stars, did not realise this terrible incident and therefore could not prevent the killing of Osiris.
The premature end of the reign of the just and good sovereign Osiris made known to the world evils that had been ignored until then. Set brought greed, murder, war and famine to the Egyptians. Men flouted every one of the 42 supreme rules that had to be obeyed, laid down by Maat, the goddess of justice.
When his long work of creation was completed, Ra returned to earth proudly, eager to discover how virtuously mankind had evolved. Of course, when he discovered on the spot the cruelty and savagery hidden deep in the hearts of men, it goes without saying that he was immensely disappointed.
Ra, furious, used his eye that had created humanity with a tear in order to eradicate these children who had not known how to respect the laws written by Maat. His eye went out of its orbit to transform itself into a fearsome destructive weapon: Sekhmet, the lion goddess. The latter began her mission at first with indifference. However, she began to take more and more pleasure in slaughtering humans, going so far as to crave the blood of her victims.
Sekhmet, created by Ra to punish humanity for its disobedience.
Seeing his daughter turn into a bloodthirsty monster, destroying all his creation, Ra was overcome with guilt and decided to stop the massacre.
In order to put an end to this barbarism, Ra poured 7000 jugs of beer into the Nile and grenadine to give it the colour of the blood that Sekhmet was so fond of. Unsuspecting Ra's ruse, the goddess quickly drank the alcoholic mixture which put her to sleep for three days, allowing her to come to her senses. Humanity was weakened but was saved!
C) Ra and Apep
This last myth about Ra does not deal specifically with his eye but is so important that it would be a pity not to address it in this article. Indeed, it gives a mythological explanation as to why the Sun sets at dusk.
According to this myth, Ra travels the day in his solar boat. The Sun god thus illuminates Egypt from the heavens but must return to his starting point every day. To do so, he passes through the underworld (located below the world of the living), which explains why the Sun is not present at night.
On this solar boat, Ra's mission is therefore, on the one hand, to make Egypt sunny during the day and, on the other hand, to cross the world of the Dead at night. If the first task may seem easy, the second is much less so.
In his journey through the world of darkness, many evil creatures try to defeat Ra every night. The most dangerous of them is Apep, the serpent god. Apep is the most evil entity in Egyptian mythology and is the true embodiment of evil and destruction. Every night, he will do his utmost to succeed in devouring the Sun god.
Apep, sworn enemy of Ra and incarnation of darkness.
However, Ra can count on several deities to ensure his protection. This team is composed of:
- Set (the repentant god of Chaos) whose role is to repel Apep.
- Sobek (the crocodile god of force and of pharaonic power) who is in charge of repelling the hordes of evil creatures sent by Apep.
- Thoth (the god of knowledge) who, every night, elaborates a new strategy to thwart the plans of Apep.
- Maat (the goddess of justice), whose healing powers are indispensable.
- Isis (the goddess of magic) who, thanks to her powers, can send spells to repel Apep and his army.
The perpetual cycle of days is thus ensured by Ra whose mission will never end.
The eye of Ra
As you have seen, the Egyptian eye of Ra is a mystical symbol and is at the heart of the ancient cult of Ra. Thanks to this article, the meaning of this eye and the differences it has with the eye of Horus no longer hold any secrets for you. You will now be able to explain to those around you what this eye represents in ancient Egypt and the legends surrounding it!
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