Ra and Amun, Amun-Ra
Egypt stands out to me as one of history’s extra-special places. Its geography is rich with interesting landmarks and its past is heavily steeped in mythology… what’s not to love? This week, I wanted to take this blog space to learn a little bit more about Ancient Egyptian Gods, specifically three of the most important deities in Egypt’s long, loaded, and fascinating history.
Ra – Sun God of Egypt
Egypt, like many other civilizations from the ancient world and beyond, had multiple distinct phases including the Old Kingdom (about 2,700-2,200 B.C.E.), the Middle Kingdom (2,050-1,800 B.C.E.), and the New Kingdom (about 1,550-1,100 B.C.E.).
Ra, the Egyptian Sun God/ God of Creation, stands out as both the foremost and one of the oldest members of the Egyptian deities, becoming the most widely worshipped God by the time the Old Kingdom was beginning to establish itself, solidifying his position as the most popular religious icon in Egypt throughout its early development. Ra is often depicted as a human with a falcon head, similarly to Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris. He wears a sun-disc encircled by a cobra upon his headdress.
It is said that Ra created humanity through… well essentially his excretions. His body is the sun and his sweat and tears fell to earth and became human. Other accounts say his powers of creation occur when he mutters the name of what he wishes to create. Legend has it that he would sail through the sky in a solar boat while the sun disk on his headdress would move with him throughout the day.
Ra was often depicted as a human with a falcon for a head, usually with a protruding sun disk known as the “Aten.” He would carry the Egyptian symbol of life, the Ankh.
Amun – God of Air
Amun, known often as “the Hidden One,” was the God of air and sun (the sun is attributed to multiple gods, Ra primarily). He rose in popularity during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, eventually reaching a state of Godhood and universal worship that would approached Ra. Like Ra, he was thought of as a King of Gods, and was one of the eight primordial deities of the Egyptian religion known as The Ogdoad. Unlike other Egyptian Gods, Amun was both the God of Air, but also a creator. In contrast to Ra, who was more explicit in his presentation and tangible in his physical presence as a God, Amun was often thought to be invisible, existing as an ubiquitous energy that was present in all things. Amun was also considered to be the father of the Pharaoh, linking royal lineage to divine forces.
Amun was typically depicted as a male human with two large plumes atop his headdress, holding some sort of scepter in his hand. Thematically, his look remains relatively consistent throughout Egyptian history, even typically being depicted as himself in depictions of Amun-Ra, with the only addition sometimes being an Aten.
Considered the “supreme” God during the New Kingdom, Amun-Ra would rise as the most widely worshipped god in all of Egypt. In fact, the famed Pharaoh of the new kingdom, Tutankhamun, was named in honor of Amun, with his name roughly translating to “living image of Amun.” Originally, king Tut’s full name was actually not Tutankhamun, rather he would change it to this from Tutankhaten,… likely named after his (maybe) father, the infamous Ankhenaten, known for shifting the Ancient Egyptian Religion in a monotheistic direction towards the Worship of “Aten” or “The Sun Disk.” Initially considered to be an aspect of Ra, Akhenaten would adopt it as the central focus of “Atenism,” intending to link him, and him alone, to the power of Aten. History has shown us that the Egyptian people did not find this favorable, with future Pharaohs destroying temples and artwork dedicated to Atenism in an effort to restore the original religion of Egypt. The, admittedly, spiteful part of me extracts a small amount of historical happiness from this… mostly because Akhenaten is famous for the dramatic and widespread iconoclasm of temples and monuments dedicated to other gods (get owned, Akhenaten). Iconoclasm was a popular form of religious and political protest in the days of Ancient history/Late Antiquity… and it has extended as a form of protest or political/religious assault to this day. As recently as 2001 two colossal, 6th century statues of Buddha located in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban with dynamite. Read more about it here.
Anyways, now that my tangent about Akhenaten is over, back to some info about Amun-Ra. This god would become so powerful and widely worshipped as “the king of gods” that his influence would seep into future religions, inspiring the idea of an ultimate god/god king. The concept of Zeus as the ruler of the Gods originates back to Amun-Ra and his powerful religious reign over Egypt. While Egypt was never explicitly and completely monotheistic, the cult of Amun-Ra eventually eclipsed nearly every other god in the New Kingdom.
Initially a small site, the Temple of Amun-Re (Amun-Ra) would flourish into the Karnak temple, now located in Luxor Egpyt, but was then the capital city of Thebes. The Karnak temple was the chief religious center of Egypt, and you may recognize the photos of the large Theban pillars. Before being rededicated to Amun-Ra, the temple had a precinct dedicated to Amenhotep IV otherwise known as Akhenaten, which was deliberately destroyed in the iconoclastic purge after his rule.