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Sources on Egyptian mythology and cosmogonic theories

Ideas about Gods

Where did people and animals, trees and shrubs, grasses and cereals come from on earth? When did the sun begin to shine – a bright sun, dispelling darkness, driving away night fears? Who lit the stars in the sky and placed the moon to replace the sun at night? How did people appear on earth and what awaits a person after death?

These questions worried people in the most distant times, many thousands of years ago. The ancient Egyptians, the inhabitants of the Nile Valley, the edge of Ta-Kemet – the “Black Land”, as they called it, as opposed to the “Red Land” – the dead desert, also thought about this.

Residents of Ta-Kemet built cities, erected magnificent palaces and temples. Caravans of ships laden with goods sailed one after another. Skilled artisans worked in the cities, creating beautiful creations. Thousands of workers were building huge pyramids day after day, which were destined to stand for centuries.

It seemed to the Egyptians that all the nature around them and the heavenly bodies, plants, mountains were animated. All these are living beings, powerful gods with immeasurable power, and the well-being and life of people depend on them.

The ancient Egyptians imagined the gods in the form of fairy-tale heroes and formidable monsters, they endowed them with power and the ability to help or harm people. There were a great many gods, because behind every phenomenon of nature there was a god or a demon.

Research in Egyptian Mythology

“Pyramid Texts”

The earliest source from which we draw information about ancient Egyptian myths, including the cosmogonic ones, is the famous “Pyramid Texts” – one of the oldest collections of religious literary monuments in the history of mankind. Their discovery is associated with the names of two outstanding French scientists – O. Marietta and G. Maspero, whose services in Egyptology are enormous. Mariette – an outstanding archaeologist who discovered an underground necropolis in Saqqara with the burial of sacred apis bulls, the founder and first director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, a tireless researcher of ancient art and culture, the creator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – originally believed that the pyramids are “silent”, that there are not and cannot be any inscriptions inside them. As Mariette was living out his last days, the news was brought to him that Maspero had discovered inscriptions on the inner wall of the Pepi I pyramid in the southern region of Saqqara. This was the last good news in Mariette’s life – in a few days he was gone.

Meanwhile, Maspero explored pyramid after pyramid: inscriptions, carved in white limestone and soaked in blue-green paint, were everywhere: in the pyramids

  • Unas,
  • Aunts,
  • Merenre,
  • Pepi II.

Together with the German Egyptologist G. Brugsch, they made copies of the texts, often at the risk of their lives, because, with the exception of the well-preserved pyramid of Unas, all the rest were dilapidated and heavy boulders could fall on the brave at any moment. Nevertheless, by May 1881, all these pyramids were examined, and the inscriptions were copied. They were published in full after thirteen years.

But the discoveries did not end there. Another French Egyptologist, G. Jequier, discovered four more pyramids with texts in 1925-1932. These pyramids belonged to the three wives of the kings of the 6th dynasty and the little-known king of Ibi, who ruled during the First Transitional Period. Thus, the number of “Pyramid Texts” known to us has increased to nine, but scientists believe that this is not all and that new discoveries in this area can be expected. In any case, in recent years, about three thousand more fragments have been discovered that have survived on the fragments of the destroyed pyramids, which are now being restored.

The Pyramid Texts are a collection of formulas of the most varied origins. Their main goal was to provide the deceased king with a rebirth to an eternal afterlife. For this they compiled all kinds of religious, magical and mythological texts that could be needed by the king in eternal life; inscriptions covered the inner walls of the corridors and burial rooms of the pyramid. This was first done at the end of the 5th dynasty, in the pyramid of Unas, but most of the formulas undoubtedly go back to more ancient sources. It is believed that some arose already in the archaic era, that is, during the reign of the first two dynasties. Magic spells, much more primitive in their content, are certainly older than the hymns, which, according to researchers, are the latest in the collection. Many sayings in these texts are believed to have originated between the 3rd and 5th dynasties.

“Texts of Sarcophagus”

Another extensive source of our knowledge about Egyptian religious and mythological ideas is the so-called “Texts of sarcophagi”, written on the inner walls of wooden sarcophagi in the period between the 8th and 17th dynasties. We find there legends about the origin and victories of the gods, clothed in the form of dialogues, as well as commentaries on mythological events. Some of the chapters of the “Texts of the Sarcophagi” are borrowed from the “Texts of the Pyramids”, but they also contain a lot of new things in comparison with the original source. Both monuments contain information not only about the cosmogonic myths of the ancient Egyptians, but also a lot of data concerning their ideas about the afterlife and the myth of Osiris. These various mythological plots were closely related to the funeral ritual: the deceased had to “refer” to them in order to ensure a prosperous posthumous existence.

Temple inscriptions

One of the important sources introducing us to Egyptian mythology and cosmogonic myths in particular is the inscriptions on the walls of temples erected during the reign of the Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies. If in the era of the New Kingdom, especially in its last period, inscriptions in temples often perpetuated historical events – they talked about the military victories of the kings – then in the changed political situation, when Egypt finally lost its independence, religious and mythological texts took their place. However, these texts are written in the form that they acquired after hundreds and even thousands of years of existence. They are a product of the evolution of beliefs and, despite their deliberately archaic form, are a reworking, not an exposition of ancient myths. In those years, ancient, often contradictory plots were ordered, they became more poetic, they were given a dramatic form. And they are, in essence, the most complete collection of Egyptian myths.


In 1865, the collection of Egyptian papyri, kept in the British Museum in London, was replenished with another very important document for Egyptian mythology – the so-called “Bremner-Rind Papyrus”. This papyrus is named for Henry Alexander Rind, a Scottish lawyer. While in Egypt in 1855, G. Rind became interested in ancient monuments, became an amateur archaeologist and organized his own archaeological expedition. For two years he was engaged in the excavation of the Theban necropolises. He donated many of his finds and acquisitions to the museum in Edinburgh and other museums in Great Britain. A number of papyri are associated with his name, the most famous of which is the Bremner-Rind Papyrus, which is kept in the British Museum under No. 10188.

Its owner was a priest named Nesmin, who ordered to write it in the twelfth year of the reign of Alexander, the son of Alexander the Great, that is, in 312 BC. e. This is a kind of religious and mythological anthology with texts from different eras. It has four parts.

The first part, entitled “Songs of Isis and Nephthys,” contains works that were performed during the Mysteries in the Temple of Osiris from the 22nd to the 26th of the month Hoyak (according to the Theban calendar – 4 months). The second part, entitled “Sokar’s Ritual of Sacrifice”, was probably also part of the mysteries of Osiris. The largest and at the same time the most interesting is the third part, “The Book of Victory over Apophis”, where the monologue of Ra, describing the creation of the world and everything that exists in it, is inserted into the history of the struggle of the god Ra with his primordial enemy – the serpent Apophis. Otherwise, the book contains various spells that protected Ra from the wiles of Apophis. The last, most concise part is “A list of the names of Apophis, which should not exist.”

This monument is extremely interesting from the point of view of mythology. We find here texts connected, on the one hand, with the myth of Osiris, and on the other, with the cycle of Heliopolis myths, including cosmogonic ones. The only explanation for such a composition is the late date of the creation of this monument, in which the author simply wrote down various, pre-existing legends about divine deeds.


Common to all cosmogonic concepts was the idea that the creation of the world was preceded by the chaos of water immersed in eternal darkness. The beginning of the way out of chaos was associated with the emergence of light, the embodiment of which was the sun. The idea of ​​the expanse of water, from which at first a small hill appears, is closely related to Egyptian realities: it almost exactly corresponds to the annual flood of the Nile, the muddy waters of which covered the entire valley, and then, retreating, gradually opened the land, ready for plowing. In this sense, the act of the creation of the world was, as it were, repeated annually.

Egyptian myths about the beginning of the world do not represent a single, complete story. Often the same mythological events are depicted in different ways, and the gods in them appear in different guises.

In ancient Egypt, there were three main religious centers, and each of them had its own list of the most revered gods and its own cosmogony (Greek κοσμογονία, from κόσμος – the world, the Universe and Greek γονή – birth) – the doctrine of the origin or creation of the Universe.

Heliopolis cosmogony

An important role in Ancient Egypt was played by the religious center – the sacred city of Iunu – the City of Pillars (in this city, in honor of the gods and pharaohs, the Egyptians erected many high tetrahedral pillars-obelisks). The Greeks gave this city its name – the City of the Sun – Heliopolis.

In the city of Heliopolis, they told such a legend about the creation of the world.

The Black Earth did not always bloom and smelled sweet. A long time ago, many years ago, in the place of cities with their temples and palaces, noisy markets and squares, there was nothing in the place of irrigated fields. Exactly – nothing. There was not even land. Boundless waters stretched everywhere – “the great lake”. It was not the present water, but the ancient, primordial, water of the endless and bottomless ocean of Nun.

The petrified, cold waters of Nun seemed to be forever frozen in immobility. There was no air, no heat, no light: darkness and primordial Chaos reigned everywhere, and nothing disturbed the peace.

Years passed, centuries passed, but time did not yet exist, and there was no one to calculate it. For a long, very long time, nothing has changed in the world. But one day the ancient waters shook, splashed, and the great god Atum-Ra appeared on their surface.

– I am, I exist! – He exclaimed, and Chaos shuddered at the thunderous voice that announced the beginning of life. – I will create the world! I will do this, for my power is great – I managed to create myself from the waters of the ocean! I have no father, no mother; I am the first god in the universe, and I will create other gods!

And around, as before, everything was enveloped in impenetrable darkness and deathly silence. There was not even a piece of solid ground in the ocean for a god to step on. Atum-Ra soared over the abyss, cast a spell, and now, among the waves and foamy spray, the first land rose – Ben-Ben Hill.

Atum-Ra conceived in his heart to create gods, he imagined their images … and exhaled from his mouth the first god Shu (Air) and spat out the first goddess Tefnut (Moisture).

But the first gods were instantly lost in the pitch darkness reigning around.

The god Atum-Ra was saddened. Maybe Shu and Tefnut got lost in the ocean, or maybe they died in the abyss.

In despair, Atum-Ra tore out his eye and ordered him to go in search of the missing children. Shining brightly and like the sun illuminating everything around, the divine Eye went in search. Instead of this eye, Atum-Ra created a new one for himself.

Not soon the Eye of the children lost in the darkness found and brought them to their father. Atum-Ra was delighted. And he turned his eye into a serpent and placed the Eye of Sun on his forehead. In honor of this, the serpent-eye adorns the crowns of gods and pharaohs for a long time. The name of this snake is Urey. Urei vigilantly looks into the distance, and if he notices enemies, he destroys them with rays of light emanating from his eyes.

The first gods began to live on the Ben-Ben hill. And so the god Shu married the goddess Tefnut. From these two gods, from the union of Air and Moisture, Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky) were born, and they, in turn, gave birth to two gods and two goddesses: Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys.

There are now only nine gods. This is how the Great Nine of Gods arose – the Ennead, as the Greeks called it.

Atum-Ra wept with joy, seeing the creations of his hands, and watered the earth with tears. People arose from tears and settled all over the world. And then Atum-Ra created many other gods.

According to another legend, the first people were molded from clay on a potter’s wheel by the ram-headed god Khnum. He was often depicted in bas-reliefs holding a machine in front of him with a small figure of a man on a potter’s wheel.

Here, in Heliopolis, there was a beautiful legend that the god Ra was born in the guise of a beautiful baby from a white lotus. This lotus grew directly from the waters of the primordial ocean, the bud opened, and Ra flew out, bringing the long-awaited light of the sun to the world. The Primary Ocean, Darkness and Chaos were portrayed in the image of the ancient old man Atum, in contrast to the infant-Sun.

This is how the priests of the city of Punu told about the creation of the world. The city of Punu Heliopolis was the main cult center of the sun god Ra.

However, different large cities had their own patron gods, and they were revered much more than in other cities of Egypt. The priests-servants of such gods sought to give their cult as much importance as possible. Some cities had their own versions of the origin of the world and people.

Memphis cosmogony

In the ancient capital of Egypt, the city of Hi-Ka-Pta (“fortress of the soul of Pta”; In Greek, “Aygup-tos.” Apparently, from this name came the modern name of the whole country “Egypt”. The city of Hi-Ka-Pta itself the Greeks called Memphis), the god Ptah (or Ptah), the patron saint of crafts and arts, was considered the creator of the world. Ptah created himself, then created Atum, and Atum already created the world, acting “according to the will of Ptah.” Ptah endowed the gods with power, “breathed life into people”, gave people laws and writing, told them magic spells, taught them to worship gods, irrigate fields, build houses, carve statues and much more.

Memphis rivaled Heliopolis in influence and the local priests-theologians included in their myth about the creation of the world many gods belonging to different religious centers, and subordinated them to Ptah as the creator of everything.

“The gods who arose from Ptah:…
Pta-Nun, the Father who created Atum,
Pta-Naunet, Mother who gave birth to Atum,
Great Pta – the heart and language of the Nine Gods …
It arose from the heart, arose from thought in the form of Atum. Great and mighty Pta, who gave his strength to all the gods and their divine spirits Ka through this heart and tongue.
And Horus and Thoth began to exist in the form of Ptah. And it became so that the heart and tongue took possession of every member, knowing that Pta is in the bodies and lips of all gods and people, cattle, reptiles and all living creatures, for everything conceived is fulfilled at his will… “

Hermopolis cosmogony

In the city of Shmunu or Hermopolis, as the Greeks called it, they taught differently. According to a beautiful local legend, a white bird, the Great Gogotun, flew into the pristine darkness of Chaos, and its voice cut through the endless silence. She laid an egg, which cracked, and light poured out and air came out. Light gave rise to life on earth, and air divided heaven and earth.

The priests of Hermopolis claimed that their city stands on the most ancient land. It was on this place that the ancient Island of Flame was located, on which the first egg lay, and its shell was buried in the ground of Hermopolis. The most ancient gods in Egypt, the gods of primary Chaos, were also worshiped here. There were eight gods, hence the name of the city of Shmunu – the city of the Eight. Therefore, the local priests believed, only Hermopolis should have a leading role in the whole country.

The most remarkable thing is that with such an abundance of different views in Ancient Egypt there was not a single teaching, belief in which was considered obligatory and artificially imposed. People who believe and worship the same god were not at enmity with those who put above other gods.

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