Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: Pre-dynastic History
Egyptian gods represent over 50 separate deities, most of which date back to pre-dynastic times. The ancient tribes that made up the region worshiped their own particular gods, which were normally embodied by an animal. As Egyptian civilization advanced, the deities took on human characteristics. In many cases, the gods were depicted with human bodies, while retaining animal heads. By the beginning of the Old Kingdom Dynasty (3100 BC), a national religion developed out of the primitive tribal and local religions. However, ongoing changes in political power resulted in the changing status of Egyptian gods. Generally, as different cities or regions became politically dominant, their particular god also became dominant.
Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: The Creation Myths
Many Egyptian gods find their origin in several of the Egyptian creation myths. These myths attempted to explain the Egyptians' place in the cosmos based on the observation of natural processes. This was particularly true for the flooding of the Nile. The flooding of the Nile was critical for Egyptian civilization. As a result, gods identified with nature became prevalent in the Egyptian creation myths. Some of the most common creation myths refer to Nu or Nun, describing the churning sea of chaos that existed before creation. Out of this chaos rose the egyptian sun god Ra. Ra then created deities that were both male and female. In turn, these deities gave birth to more deities, and the newly created deities were responsible for the creation of the physical world. Ra was also responsible for the creation of mankind. One creation myth refers to mankind being created from the tears of Ra.
Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: Life After Death
The Egyptian gods were closely tied to the Egyptians' strong belief in life after death. The dead were provided food, drink, weapons and other necessities. Family members often visited the tombs with ongoing gifts. The proper care for the dead was required to ensure eternal life. The Egyptian view of life after death had several different concepts, the most important of which was referred to as "ba" -- loosely compared to the existence of an individual's soul. The concept of "ba" resulted in the physical manifestation of an individual after death. This manifestation usually took the form of a bird. In that way, the individual became part of the perennial life of nature.
Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: Brush With Monotheism
Ancient Egyptian religion was an ever-changing mishmash of several Egyptian gods and tribal and regional traditions. As a result, there were several conflicting beliefs. There was no one set of unified teachings such as the Bible. The king (pharaoh) was entrusted to determine the will of the gods. Over time, these conflicts were reconciled and a trend towards monotheism developed. This trend reached its zenith during the reign of Amenhoteb IV when he established Aten as the only universal god. This concept went against thousands of years of Egyptian religious tradition. The one god concept ended soon after the death of one of his successors, Akhenaten. The worship of multiple gods was fully reinstated during the reign of a boy king named Tutankhaten (Tut). (Ironically, the discovery of King Tut's tomb became one of the greatest archeological finds in history.) There is little in ancient Egyptian religious beliefs that can be directly compared to present day religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. However, the concepts of divine creation and life after death are at least common themes. A prevailing thought is that Egyptian gods, like all gods and religious belief systems, developed as a result of mankind attempting to explain the physical world. Another thought is that all humans are born with the innate understanding of the existence of a sovereign Creator, and that many ancient religions sprouted as a result of this universal truth.