Egyptian Myth and Legend, by Donald Mackenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
The Primordial Deep--Ra's "Soul Egg" arises--The Elder Gods--Isis and the Serpent--Plot to rival Ra--How his Magic Name was obtained--Ra. seeks to destroy Mankind--An Avenging Goddess--The Deluge--Worshippers are spared--Origin of Sacrifice--Ra ascends to Heaven--Earth God's Reptile Brood--Thoth the Deputy--The Sun God's Night journey--Perils of the Underworld--Rebirth of Sun at Dawn.
AT the beginning the world was a waste of water called Nu. and it was the abode of the Great Father. He was Nu, for he was the deep, and he gave being unto the sun god who hath said: "Lo! I am Khepera at dawn, Ra at high noon, and Tum at eventide". The god of brightness first appeared as a shining egg which floated upon the water's breast, and the spirits of the deep, who were the Fathers and the Mothers, were with him there, as he was with Nu, for they were the companions of Nu.
Now Ra was greater than Nu from whom he arose. He was the divine father and strong ruler of gods, and those whom he first created, according to his desire, were Shu, the wind god, and his consort Tefnut, who had the
head of a lioness and was called "The Spitter" because she sent the rain. In aftertime these two deities shone as stars amidst the constellations of heaven, and they were called "The Twins".
Then came into being Seb, the earth god, and Nut, the goddess of the firmament, who became the parents of Osiris and his consort Isis and also of Set and his consort Nepthys.
Ra spake at the beginning of Creation, and bade the earth and the heavens to rise out of the waste of water. In the brightness of his majesty they appeared, and Shu, the uplifter, raised. Nut upon high. She formed the vault, which is arched over Seb, the god of earth, who lies prostrate beneath her from where, at the eastern horizon, she is poised upon her toes to where, at the western horizon, bending down with outstretched arms, she rests upon her finger tips. In the darkness are beheld the stars which sparkle upon her body and over her great unwearied limbs.
When Ra, according to his desire, uttered the deep thoughts of his mind, that which he named had being. When he gazed into space, that which he desired to see appeared before him. He created all things that move in the waters and upon the dry land. Now, mankind were born from his eye, and Ra, the Creator, who was ruler of the gods, became the first king upon earth. He went about among men; he took form like unto theirs, and to him the centuries were as years.
Ra had many names that were not known unto gods or men, and he had one secret name which gave to him his divine power. The goddess Isis, who dwelt in the world as a woman, grew weary of the ways of mankind; she sought rather to be amidst the mighty gods. She was an enchantress, and she desired greatly to have
power equal with Ra in the heavens and upon the earth. In her heart, therefore, she yearned to know the secret name 1 of the ruling god, which was hidden in his bosom and was never revealed in speech.
Each day Ra walked forth, and the gods who were of his train followed him, and he sat upon his throne and uttered decrees. He had grown old, and as he spake moisture dripped from his mouth and fell upon the ground. Isis followed after him, and when she found his saliva she baked it with the earth on which it lay. In the form of a spear she shaped the substance, and it became a venomous serpent. She lifted it up; she cast it from her, and it lay on the path which Ra was wont to traverse when he went up and down his kingdom, surveying that which he had made. Now the sacred serpent which Isis created was invisible to gods and men.
Soon there came a day when Ra, the aged god, walked along the path followed by his companions. He came nigh to the serpent, which awaited him, and the serpent stung him. The burning venom entered his body, and Ra was stricken with great pain. A loud and mighty cry broke from his lips, and it was heard in highest heaven.
Then spake the gods who were with him, saying: "What hath befallen thee?" and "What thing is there?"
Ra answered not; he shook; all his body trembled and his teeth clattered, for the venom overflowed in his flesh as does the Nile when it floods the land of Egypt. But at length he possessed himself and subdued his heart and the fears of his heart. He spake, and his words were:
"Gather about me, ye who are my children, so that I may make known the grievous thing which hath befallen
me even now. I am stricken with great pain by something I know not of . . . by something which I cannot behold. Of that I have knowledge in my heart, for I have not done myself an injury with mine own hand. Lo! I am without power to make known who hath stricken me thus. Never before hath such sorrow and pain been mine."
He spake further, saying: "I am a god and the son of a god; I am the Mighty One, son of the Mighty One. Nu, my father, conceived my secret name which giveth me power, and he concealed it in my heart so that no magician might ever know it, and, knowing it, be given power to work evil against me.
"As I went forth, even now, beholding, the world which I have created, a malignant thing did bite me. It is not fire, yet it burns in my flesh; it is not water, yet cold is my body and my limbs tremble. Hear me now! My command is that all my children be brought nigh to me so that they may pronounce words of power which shall be felt upon earth and in the heavens."
All the children of Ra were brought unto him as was his desire. Isis, the enchantress, came in their midst, and all sorrowed greatly, save her alone. She spoke forth mighty words, for she could utter incantations to subdue pain and to give life unto that from which life had departed. Unto Ra spake Isis, saying: "What aileth thee, holy father? . . . Thou hast been bitten by a serpent, one of the creatures which thou didst create. I shall weave spells; I shall thwart thine enemy with magic. Lo! I shall overwhelm the serpent utterly in the brightness of thy glory."
He answered her, saying: "A malignant thing did bite me. It is not fire, yet it burns my flesh. It is not water, yet cold is my body, and my limbs tremble.
[paragraph continues] Mine eyes also have grown dim. Drops of sweat fall from my face."
Isis spake unto the divine father and said: "Thou must, even now, reveal thy secret name unto me, for, verily, thou canst be delivered from thy pain and distress by the power of thy name."
Ra heard her in sorrow. Then he said: "I have created the heavens and the earth. Lo! I have even framed the earth, and the mountains are the work of my hands; I made the sea, and I cause the Nile to flood the land of Egypt. I am the Great Father of the gods and the goddesses. I gave life unto them. I created every living thing that moves upon the dry land and in the sea depths. When I open my eyes there is light: when I close them there is thick darkness. My secret name is known not unto the gods. I am Khepera at dawn, Ra at high noon, and Tum at eventide."
So spake the divine father; but mighty and magical as were his words they brought him no relief. The poison still burned in his flesh and his body trembled. He seemed ready to die.
Isis, the enchantress, heard him, but there was no sorrow in her heart. She desired, above all other things, to share the power of Ra, and she must needs have revealed unto her his sacred name which Nu conceived and uttered at the beginning. So she spake to Ra, saying:
"Divine father, thou hast not yet spoken thy name of power. If thou shalt reveal it unto me I will have strength to give thee healing."
Hotter than fire burned the venom in the heart of Ra. Like raging flames it consumed his flesh, and he suffered fierce agony. Isis waited, and at length the Great Father spake in majesty and said;
"It is my will that Isis be given my secret name, and that it leave my heart and enter hers."
When he had spoken thus, Ra vanished from before the eyes of the gods. The sun boat was empty, and there was thick darkness. Isis waited, and when the secret name of the divine father was about to leave his heart and pass into her own, she spake unto Horus her son and said:
"Now, compel the ruling god, by a mighty spell, to yield up also his eyes, which are the sun and the moon." 1
Isis then received in her heart the secret name of Ra, and the mighty enchantress said
"Depart, O venom, from Ra; come forth from his heart and from his flesh; flow out, shining from his mouth. . . . I have worked the spell. . . . Lo! I have overcome the serpent and caused the venom to be spilled upon the ground, because that the secret name of the divine father hath been given unto me. . . . Now let Ra live, for the venom hath perished."
So was the god made whole. The venom departed from his body and there was no longer pain in his heart or any sorrow.
As Ra grew old ruling over men, there were those among his subjects who spake disdainfully regarding him, saying: "Aged, indeed, is King Ra, for now his bones are silvern and his flesh is turned to gold, although his hair is still true lapis lazuli (dark)."
Unto Ra came knowledge of the evil words which were spoken against him, and there was anger in his heart, because that there were rebellious sayings on the lips of men and because they sought also to slay him. He spake unto his divine followers and said:
"Bring before me the god Shu and the goddess
Tefnut, the god Seb and his consort Nut, and the fathers and mothers who were with me at the beginning when I was in Nu. Bring Nu before me also. Let them all come hither in secret, so that men may not behold them, and, fearing, take sudden flight. Let all the gods assemble in my great temple at Heliopolis."
The gods assembled as Ra desired, and they made obeisance before him. They then said: "Speak what thou desirest to say and we will hear."
He addressed the gods, saying: "O Nu, thou the eldest god, from whom I had my being, and ye ancestral gods, hear and know now, that rebellious words are spoken against me by mankind, whom I did create. Lo! they seek even to slay me. It is my desire that ye should instruct me what ye would do in this matter. Consider well among yourselves and guide me with wisdom. I have hesitated to punish mankind until I have heard from Your lips what should now be done regarding them.
"For lo! I desire in my heart to destroy utterly that which I did create. All the world will become a waste of water through a great flood as it was at the beginning, and I alone shall be left remaining, with no one else beside me save Osiris and his son Horus. I shall become a small serpent invisible to the gods. To Osiris will be given power to reign over the dead, and Horus will be exalted on the throne which is set upon the island of fiery flames."
Then spake forth Nu, god of primeval waters, and he said: "Hear me now, O my son, thou who art mightier far than me, although I gave thee life. Steadfast is thy throne; great is the fear of thee among men. Let thine eye go forth against those who are rebels in the kingdom."
Ra said: "Now do men seek escape among the hills; they tremble because of the words they have uttered."
The gods spake together, saying: "Let thine eye go forth against those who are rebels in the kingdom and it shall destroy them utterly. When it cometh down from heaven as Hathor, no human eye can be raised against it."
Ra heard, and, as was his will, his eye went forth as Hathor against mankind among the mountains, and they were speedily slain. The goddess rejoiced in her work and drave over the land, so that for many nights she waded in blood.
Then Ra repented. His fierce anger passed away, and he sought to save the remnant of mankind. He sent messengers, who ran swifter than the storm wind, unto Elephantine, so that they might obtain speedily many plants of virtue. These they brought back, and they were well ground and steeped with barley in vessels filled with the blood of mankind. So was beer made and seven thousand jars were filled with it.
Day dawned and Hathor 1 went upstream slaughtering mankind. Ra surveyed the jars and said: "Now shall I give men protection. It is my will that Hathor may slay them no longer."
Then the god gave command that the jars should be carried to the place where the vengeful goddess rested for the night after that day of slaughter. The jars were emptied out as was his desire, and the land was covered with the flood.
When Hathor awoke her heart was made glad. She
stooped down and she saw her beauteous face mirrored in the flood. Then began she to drink eagerly, and she was made drunken so that she went to and fro over the land, nor took any heed of mankind.
Ra spake unto her, saying: "Beautiful goddess, return to me in peace."
Hathor returned, and the divine father said: "Henceforward shall comely handmaidens, thy priestesses, prepare for thee in jars, according to their number, draughts of sweetness, and these shall be given as offerings unto thee at the first festival of every New Year. 1
So it came that from that day, when the Nile rose in red flood, covering the land of Egypt, offerings of beer were made unto Hathor. Men and women partook of the draughts of sweetness at the festival and were made drunken like the goddess.
Now when Hathor had returned to Ra he spake unto her with weariness, saying:
"A fiery pain torments me, nor can I tell whence it comes. I am still alive, but I am weary of heart and desire no longer to dwell among men. Lo! I have not destroyed them as I have power to do."
The gods who followed Ra said: "Be no longer weary. Power is thine according to thy desire."
Ra answered them, saying: "Weary indeed are my limbs and they fail me. I shall go forth no longer alone, nor shall I wait until I am stricken again with pain. Help shall be given unto me according to my desire."
Then the ruler of the gods called unto Nu, from whom he had being, and Nu bade Shu, the atmosphere god, and Nut, goddess of the heavens, to give aid unto Ra in his distress.
Nut took the form of the Celestial Cow, and Shu lifted Ra upon her back. Then darkness came on. Men issued forth from their hiding places in great fear, and when they beheld Ra departing from them they sorrowed because of the rebellious words which had been spoken against his majesty. Indeed they cried unto Ra, beseeching him to slay those of his enemies who remained. But Ra was borne through the darkness, and men followed him until he appeared again and shed light upon the earth. Then did his faithful subjects arm themselves with weapons, and they sallied forth against the enemies of the sun god and slaughtered them in battle.
Ra beheld that which his followers among men had done, and he was well pleased. He spake unto them saying: "Now is your sin forgiven. Slaughter atones for slaughter. Such is sacrifice and the purport thereof." When Ra had thus accepted in atonement for the sin of men the sacrifice of his enemies who desired to slay him, he spake unto the heavenly goddess Nut, saying:
"Henceforth my dwelling place must be in the heavens. No longer will I reign upon the earth."
So it happened, according to his divine will. The great god went oil his way through the realms which are above, and these he divided and set in order. He spake creating words, and called into existence the field of Aalu, and there he caused to assemble a multitude of beings which are beheld in heaven, even the stars, and these were born of Nut. In millions they came to praise and glorify Ra. Unto Shu, the god of atmosphere, whose consort is Nut, was given the keeping of the multitude of beings that shine in thick darkness. Shu raised his arms, uplifting over his head the Celestial Cow 1 and the millions and millions of stars.
Then Ra spake unto the earth god, who is called Seb, and said:
"Many fearsome reptiles dwell in thee. It is my will now that they may have dread of me as great as is my dread of them. Thou shalt discover why they are moved with enmity against me. When thou hast done that, thou shalt go unto Nu, my father, and bid him to have knowledge of all the reptiles in the deep and upon the dry land. Let be made known unto each one that my rays shall fall upon them. By words of magic alone can they be overcome. I shall reveal the charms by which the children of men call thwart all reptiles, and Osiris, thy son, shall favour the magicians who protect mankind against them."
He spake again and called forth the god Thoth who came into being by his word.
"For thee, O Thoth he said, "I shall make a resplendent abode in the great deep and the underworld which is Duat. Thou shalt record the sins of men, and the names of those who are mine enemies; in Duat thou shalt bind them. Thou shalt be temporary dweller in my place; thou art my deputy. Lo! I now give messengers unto thee."
So came into being by his power the ibis, the crane, and the dog ape, 1 the messengers of Thoth.
Ra spake again, saying: "Thy beauty shall be shed through the darkness; thou shalt join night with day."
So came into being the moon (Ah) of Thoth, and Ra said: "All living creatures shall glorify and praise thee as a wise god."
When all the land is black, the sun bark of Ra passes through the twelve hour-divisions of night in Duat. At
eventide, when the god is Tum, he is old and very frail. Five-and-seventy invocations are chanted to give him power to overcome the demons of darkness who are his enemies. He then enters the western gate, through which dead men's souls pass to be judged before Osiris. In front of him goes the jackal god, Anubis, for he is "Opener of the Ways". Ra has a sceptre in one hand: in the other he carries the Ankh, which is the symbol of life.
When the sun bark enters the river Ûrnes of the underworld the companions of Ra are with him. Watchman is there, and Striker, and Steersman is at the helm, and in the bark are also those divinities who are given power, by uttering magical incantations, to overcome the demons of evil.
The gloomy darkness of the first hour-division is scattered by the brightness of Ra. Beside the bark gather the pale shades of the newly dead, but none of them can enter it without knowledge of the magical formulae which it is given unto few to possess.
At the end of the first hour-division is a high and strong wall, and a gate is opened by incantations so that the bark of Ra may pass through. So from division to division, all through the perilous night, the sun god proceeds, and the number of demons that must be thwarted by magic and fierce fighting increases as he goes. Apep, the great Night serpent, ever seeks to overcome Ra and devour him.
The fifth hour-division is the domain of dreaded Sokar, the underworld god, with three human heads, a serpent's body, and mighty wings between which appears his hawk form. His abode is in a dark and secret place which is guarded by fierce sphinxes. Nigh to him is the Drowning Pool, watched over by five gods with bodies
like to men and animals' heads. Strange and mysterious forms hover nigh, and in the pool are genii in torture, their heads aflame with everlasting fire.
In the seventh hour-division sits Osiris, divine judge of the dead. Fiery serpents, which are many-headed, obey his will. Feet have they to walk upon and hands, and some carry sharp knives with which to cut to pieces the souls of the wicked. Whom Osiris deems to be worthy, he favours; such shall live in the Nether World: whom he finds to be full of sin, he rejects; and these do the serpents fall upon, dragging them away, while they utter loud and piercing cries of grief and agony, to be tortured and devoured; lo! the wicked perish utterly. In this division of peril the darksome Night serpent Apep attacks the sun bark, curling its great body round the compartment of Ra with ferocious intent to devour him. But the allies of the god contend against the serpent; they stab it with knives until it is overcome. Isis utters mighty incantations which cause the sun bark to sail onward unscathed nor stayed.
In the eighth division are serpents which spit forth fire to illumine the darkness, and in the tenth are fierce water reptiles and ravenous fishes. The god Horus burns great beacons in the eleventh hour-division; ruddy flames and flames of gold blaze aloft in beauty: the enemies of Ra are consumed in the fires of Horus.
The sun god is reborn in the twelfth hour-division. He enters the tail of the mighty serpent, which is named "Divine Life", and issues from its mouth in the form of Khepera, which is a beetle. Those who are with the god are reborn also. The last door of all is guarded by Isis, wife of Osiris, and Nepthys, wife of Set, in the form of serpents. They enter the sun bark with Ra.
Now Ûrnes, the river of Duat, flows into the primeval
ocean in which Nu has his abode. And as Ra was lifted out of the deep at the beginning, so he is lifted by Nu at dawn. He is then received by Nut, goddess of the heavens; he is born of Nut and grows in majesty, ascending to high noon.
The souls of the dead utter loud lamentations when the sun god departs out of the darkness of Duat. 1
3:1 The secret name was called Ran; it was one of the god's spirits. See Chapter VII.
6:1 Hence, the reference to "Horus the Ra".
8:1 The feline goddess Sekhet is also given as the slaughterer. In one of the temple chants we read: "Hathor overcometh the enemy of her sire by this her name of Sekhet".
9:1 20 July, when the star Sirius (Sothis) appears as the morning star. The Nile is then in full flood.
10:1 Hathor, the sky goddess, in her cow form, displaces Nut.
11:1 Here the old lunar deity Thoth is associated with the dawn. The chattering of apes at sunrise gave origin to the idea that they worshipped the rising sun.
14:1 The myths from which this chapter has been constructed date from the Empire period, and especially the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties. Ra is first a human god (the Pharaoh), then a world god like Ptah in his giant form, and lastly a cosmic deity. The priests were evidently engaged in systematizing the theology of the sun cult. Ra, the sun, is shown to be greater than his father Nu; and a concession is made to the worshippers of Isis in the legend which credits Ra with imparting to her the powers she possessed. Horus is given recognition; he possesses himself of the "eyes" of Ra (the sun and moon). Thoth also, as Ah, has control of the moon. The result of the compromising process was to leave everything vague and even confused, but this greatness of Ra was made manifest.