The Gods of Egypt Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein 6 - Animal Gods and Goddesses (Click on pictures to see larger images.) The Nile Valley teemed with various forms of animal life, and among a people who recognized that each animal had special gifts or powers, it was not too great a stretch to revere them for their powers and essentially make them totem animals. From there it is a short step to worshipping the central or over-lighting spirit of the animal as a god (compare the beliefs of Native American tribes in totem animals and the modern interest in gardening with “devas” at Findhorn in Scotland and Perelandra in Virginia.) Also, anthropomorphic gods might nevertheless become identified with specific animals by correspondences with those animals’ powers. Hence, there came to be a god associated with virtually every form of animal life, especially those that had characteristics with which humans could identify.  Some of the animals associated with gods included the baboon, the beetle, the bull, the cat, the cobra, the cow, the crocodile, the dolphin, the dog, the frog, the fish, the goose, the hawk, the heron, the hippopotamus, the ibis, the jackal, the lioness, the lynx, the rabbit, the ram, the snake, the sow, the scorpion, the swallow, the vulture, and the wolf. Though the list below is not exhaustive, among the animal-human gods not yet described in detail above are the following: Anubis (in center of picture) was the jackal-headed god who helped Isis find Osiris after he was murdered and embalmed the pieces so that they resisted decay, thus inventing the burial rites. Anubis supposedly guided the barque containing the soul of the deceased to the underworld, where he then assisted with the weighing of the heart against a feather (see Maat below). Apis was the sacred bull of Memphis.  Supposedly he was born of a virgin cow impregnated by the god Ptah.  A physical bull was worshipped as the son of the god; at the age of 25, the bull would be sacrificed (perhaps in lieu of the sacrificial killing of the king), and a new baby bull was sought to take his place. The cult of Apis came to be so important that Ptolemy I introduced the god Serapis, a combination of Osiris and Apis, who was later honored along with Isis throughout the Roman Empire. Bast was a cat goddess, generally considered the fertilizing power of the sun. She was a patron of music and dance. Her antithesis was her sister goddess, the lioness Sekhmet, who represented the destructive power of the sun. Bes was a dwarf or pygmy god who was generally believed at all levels of society to be the bringer of happiness.  He protected the family, presided over marriage, and as a friend to women took concern for their grooming and adornment, as well as childbearing and the protection of newborns.  He was often depicted in art dancing around the newborn, playing a small drum and slashing with knives; it was believed the noise and motion, as well as his ugliness, would frighten away evil spirits. Bes may have been a lion god in ancient times, as his brows and shaggy beard are distinctly leonine. Bes was generally thought to be married to Taueret, the hippopotamus goddess who presided at childbirth. Buto was the Greek name for the uraeus or cobra goddess Wadjet, protector of Lower Egypt.  Sometime Buto was equated with Hathor.  Her twin sister Nekhebet, the vulture goddess,  was the patroness of Upper Egypt. Hence, we see a symbol here of the bird-serpent so prominent in cultures throughout the world.  Compare, for example, Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent of Aztec tradition, and the serpent of the sign of Scorpio, which becomes the eagle when it has cleared away the dross of human experience. Hathor was the cow goddess whose name means the “house of Horus.” In one myth she stood on the earth in the form of a cow and her four legs held up the sky.  Each evening Horus, as the sun god, flew into her mouth in the form of a hawk, so he was said to be both her husband and her son. Hathor represented the Great Cosmic Mother, progenetrix of all life. However, she had her negative side, for in one myth the sun god wanted to punish humanity for their sins, and Hathor was given the job of slaughtering them. Perhaps from this association she became the goddess of Tuat, land of the dead. Because she also loved merriment and dance and because her birth date was a new year celebration, among the Greeks she became associated with Aphrodite. As the cow goddess she was depicted in Egyptian art with a pair of horns encompassing the solar disk, with the head of a cow, and as a cow. Maat or Mayet was the goddess of truth and justice. Sometimes pictured with balance scales, she presided over the judging of the soul of the deceased in the Hall of Judgment in the underworld. She is generally pictured with an ostrich feather, which she supposedly used in the balance scales to weigh the heart of the deceased. Said to be a daughter of Ra, she was in some myths also associated with Thoth as his wife. The light Ra brought to the world was Maat; when Akhenaten declared the Aten to be the sun god, he said Maat (though she was more an abstract concept in this cult) was the consort of the solar disk. Min, god of rain and crops, was worshipped at harvest festivals in the form of a white bull, an animal associated with him. He was identified by the Greeks with the god Pan, the goat-footed god. He was also sometimes associated with the god Horus. Mut was the principal female counterpart of the solar god Amen-Ra, though she was often depicted with both male and female reproductive organs. In Egyptian art she was sometimes shown with the combined crowns of the North and the South (the cobra and the vulture) and holding the papyrus scepter and the ankh. Nephthys was often regarded as the goddess of death but was sometimes connected with the god Min, who symbolized virility, reproduction, and regeneration.  Hence, she was the goddess who represented the regeneration that comes from death. She was therefore considered a friend of the dead. In art, she often appeared with outstretched wings in a gesture of protection. Sebek was a crocodile god. In ancient times he was associated with the god Set and represented the power of evil and death. Later he came to be revered as a god who was both friend and enemy of Osiris; he was also associated with the sun god Ra. He is depicted as a crocodile or as a crocodile- headed man, sometimes with a solar disk enveloped by the uraeus or by a pair of horns, the disk, and feathers. Set, murderer and dismemberer of his brother Osiris, was associated with darkness, death, and evil.  However, it was recognized by the Egyptians that this aspect is always a part of life. Hence, the pharaoh was sometimes known as the “Two Lords” because the darkness (represented by Set) and the light (represented by Horus) were inseparable. Set was associated by the Greeks with Typhon. He is depicted in art as a sometimes red-complected man-beast with pointed muzzle and square ears. Selket or Serket was a scorpion goddess. It was believed in Egypt that scorpions bit only men, not women. Selket guarded one of the four gates of the underworld; as a result, she was regarded as a goddess of fertility and the afterlife. Taueret or Taurt was a hippopotamus goddess, patroness of childbirth and maternity. She is said to have been a prominent assistant at the birth of Queen Hatshepsut. She is often depicted as a huge female hippopotamus standing upright with large human breasts; she had the legs of a lioness and the tail of a crocodile. Sometimes she wore the solar disk with cow’s horns, a reminder that she was present each day at the rebirth of the sun. She was sometimes called the Eye of Ra, or his daughter, and was even credited in some myths with being the mother of Osiris and Isis. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily