Identifying the Gods of Egypt

In the Egyptian pantheon there are literally hundreds of gods.  It would be far beyond the scope of our present discussion to try to list them all, so we will address only the most well known: those that the reader is most likely to encounter.

The theologians of the great cult centers adopted the cosmic gods and incorporated them into the cosmogonies that supported the state religion.  The fact is, however, that these state gods, the gods of the pharaoh, failed to receive popular worship, as they were considered “unapproachable” by most of the population.  The only exception would be if they somehow incorporated aspects of local deities and thus became associated with local cults.  This situation did change somewhat with the rise of the worship of Osiris and the gods connected with him beginning at the time of the Middle Kingdom and coming to full force by the New Kingdom period.

This process has been termed a “democratization” of the religious belief by many but seems more like a take over of royal associations following the collapse of the Old Kingdom.  As time moved on, the gods mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, that material found in the Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids, became more accessible to the common person.  It remains however, that we know the most about the gods of the king at all periods of Egyptian history.  These gods were worshiped by the king and attained a national stature.  In the time of Tuthmosis III the gods worshiped numbered approximately 740, most of which were gods of particular locales or of cities, and of these we know very little.

The following list is intended to provide an introduction to the gods and is not intended to be all-inclusive.

Amon  Known as "The Hidden One," often shown with a crown of tall feathers and at times in the form of Min.  Also can be seen in the form of a ram and a goose.  His first important mention is as a primeval deity and a member of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad.  He is preeminent from the Middle Kingdom, ca. 2000 BCE, to the end of the New Kingdom, with only a brief eclipse in the time of Akhenaten at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty.  Combined with the sun god Re to form Amon-Re known as "The King of the Gods."  Along with Mut and Khonsu he forms the Theban Triad as seen in the temples of Karnak at Luxor.

  Anubis  The jackal-headed god of the necropolis, it is his duty to guard and glorify the deceased.  He is the god of embalming and is shown with black skin and in later times holds a position in the Osiris cycle.

     Apis The bull worshiped in Memphis from early dynastic times on.  He guarantees the fertility of the land and his tail is seen hanging down from behind the kilt of the king in many depiction's.  He is associated with the god Ptah of Memphis and is often depicted with the sun disk between his horns.  Occasionally seen in human form with a bull's head.

Aten  An aspect of the sun-creator god whose literal meaning is “disk.”   Usually shown as such in the reign of Amonhotep IV (Akhenaten) with rays emanating from the lower half of the disk and ending in hands that sometimes hold the ankh, the Egyptian symbol for “life.”  He is also seen to wear the Uraeus-cobra goddess of royalty-and is known from early on in Egyptian history.  In the Eighteenth Dynasty the god was worshiped at Akhet-Aten (Tell el-Amarna) during the time of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.

Atum   Primordial and creator god most often seen in human form although can have the shape of a serpent.  Supreme ruler of the Heliopolitan Ennead (group of nine gods from the Pyramid Texts).  United with Re to form Re-Atum.  At times he is worshiped as the evening manifestation of the sun god as seen at the entrance to Nineteenth Dynasty king's tombs at Luxor.
Bastet  Goddess of Bubastes in the form of a cat.  She is seen as the benevolent counterpart of the lion goddess Sekhmet.
Bes  A group of deities seen as a dwarf gods with grotesque faces and one of the few gods shown in full frontal depiction.  He often shows a crown of feathers and a lion's mane.  Provides protection in birth and is regarded as a provider of virility.  Perhaps Asiatic in origin.

Edjo  Goddess of Buto and seen in the form of a uraeus serpent.  As such she was seen as the aggressive protector of the king.  "Mistress of the Red Crown" of Lower Egypt, her serpent form was seen as ready to spit fire and venom on the enemies of Pharaoh. 
  Geb The earth god and son of Atum in the Heliopolitan Ennead.  Geb is the consort of Nut the sky goddess and the father of Osiris, Isis, Nephthys and Seth.  He is seen always in human form and is a primordial god who is well disposed towards the dead.  An interesting point is that Geb is a male earth figure whereas it is much more common in ancient cultures to view the earth as a female.

Hapi Represents the Nile flood and is the personification of the fecundity inherent therein.  Seen usually as a hermaphroditic (combined male-female) figure.
Harakhte  "Horus of the Horizon."  The daytime form of the sun god and usually depicted as a hawk.  At times seen as a human with a hawk's head with sun disk atop his head.
Harmachis "Horus in the Horizon." Also known as Hor-em-akhet in Egyptian, this is the name of the Great Sphinx of Giza.
 Hathor  Hathor is probably the most universal Egyptian goddess.  She is seen as a sky goddess, as a cow, in serpent form, and at times in human form with cow's ears and horns, often with the sun disk between the horns.  She is often seen full face.  Hathor is the goddess of love, dance, alcohol, mistress of foreign lands and can have mother qualities.  However, in her manifestation as the "Eye of Re," she can bring death and destruction. She is also seen as the special protector of Pharaoh.  At Thebes she is the goddess of the dead and called "The Lady of the West."  She is especially to be seen in her temple at Dendera, the Isis temple at Philae, the small temple at Abu Simbel and at the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Luxor.
Horus  Ancient sky god in falcon form whose eyes are the sun and the moon.  His name may mean "the distant one," and may be the earliest royal god.  He is incarnate in the ruling king.  At Heliopolis he was united with Re to form Re-Harakhti; "Horus of the Horizon."  He has several forms including "Horus the Elder” and "Horus the son of Isis and Osiris."  During the Late Period and Ptolemaic times he was worshiped in particular at Edfu.
Isis One of the principal goddesses of Egypt, usually shown in human form with the hieroglyph for "throne" atop her head.  This goddess may also be seen with the horns and solar disk headdress similar to Hathor.  She is the daughter of the god Geb and the sister and wife of Osiris.  In one myth she is the mother of Horus and is associated with magical powers.  She is a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis and was worshiped in particular at Philae Temple but also throughout Egypt as well as throughout the Greek and Roman Empires.
Khepri   The morning form of the sun god whose name is an Egyptian verb for "coming into being."  Usually depicted as a scarab beetle and considered a manifestation of the primordial Re-Atum of Heliopolis.  His form can be seen over the entranceway to some New Kingdom royal tombs at Luxor with Atum and the solar disk.
  Khnum A ram headed god who was worshiped from early dynastic times as a creator god.  His main area of influence is southern Egypt and especially around the Elephantine area where he is the "Lord of the Cataract."  As a creator god he sculpts mankind on a potters wheel; both the physical body and the Ka or the "essence" of a person.
Khons (or Khonsu) Moon god of the Karnak triad.  He is the son of Amon and Mut usually shown with human head in mummiform body with a symbolic sidelock of youth and a moon disk on his head.  As a source of fertility and a giver of the "breath of life," he also wears the menat necklace as a symbol of virility.
Maat Personification of the "order" of the world.  She is shown as a woman with a feather in her hair and sometimes with wings, as all the goddesses may appear from time to time.  Considered to be the daughter of the god Re, she was closely associated with justice.  It is the feather that she wears on her head that the deceased's heart is weighed against in the Thirtieth Chapter of the Book of the Dead.
Mertseger  “She who loves silence."  She is the personification of the natural pyramid, which rises above the Valley of the Kings at Luxor and is the protective goddess of the necropolis there.  Mertseger may be an aspect of the uraeus serpent as she is sometimes represented as a cobra and occasionally as a woman with a cobra head.
Min Ithyphallic god of virility and fertility.  He is an aspect of Amon as can be seen in the tall feather head gear that he wears.  He also carries a whip, or flail, which is a hold over from his ancient fetish of a thunderbolt. 
Mnevis  Seen from the New Kingdom forward as the sacred bull of Heliopolis who is a manifestation of the sun god.  Designated to be the god's herald.
Mut Wife of Amon in the Theban triad and shown as a woman or vulture with the double crown.  Considered to be the great and divine mother and called the "Lady of Asheru" (the precinct of Mut at Karnak), she should not be confused with Nekhbet (see below), the protectress of Upper Egypt and also shown as a vulture.
Neith  An ancient goddess of hunting and warfare, she was worshiped at Sais in the western delta of Lower Egypt.  Additionally, she was said to be the wife of Khnum at Elphantine in her aspect as a creative deity.  In later periods she was seen as a bisexual goddess, the mother of Sobek and mistress of the primeval waters.
 Nekhbet    Referred to as "She of Nekheb" (el-Kab), she is seen as the Upper Egyptian goddess in vulture form and the counterpart to Edjo of Lower Egypt.  She is "Mistress of the White Crown," (Upper Egyptian) and protectress of the king.
  Nephthys   Her name means "Mistress of the House" in reference to the house of Osiris.  She is the sister of Isis, Osiris and Seth who she is sometimes seen as being the consort of.  Usually seen as a mourning woman alongside Isis she is in fact referred to as one of the "great mourners" who mourn the dead Osiris.  She had no recognizable cult of her own.
Nun  Personification of the primeval waters from which all came.  With his counterpart Naunet, he forms the most important pair of primeval deities of the Hermopolis Ogdoad.  He is sometimes referred to as the "father of the gods."
Nut  The sky goddess in the Heliopolitan Ennead and the wife of the earth god Geb.  She is the mother of the Osirian group and mother of all heavenly bodies.  The sun passes through her body on its nightly journey of renewal and rebirth.  Her overarching image can be seen on the burial chamber ceiling of several Twentieth Dynasty kings tombs at Luxor.
Osiris  The great Egyptian god of the dead.  Combined with Isis and Horus to form a family and the brother of Nephthys and Seth.  Shown in mummiform with a human head and holding the crook and flail, he presides over the judgment of the dead as they enter into the netherworld and eternal life.  He is the personification of the underworld, of death and of new life as the god who dies and rises again.  He is also seen as the symbol of all vegetation and linked with the dying (waning) and birth (waxing) of the moon.  He is identified in the Pyramid Texts with the constellation Orion.  His cult center is at Abydos where it was established in the earliest of times in Egypt.
   Ptah   Worshiped as a creator god in Memphis and head of the Memphite Theology as creation through the word or speech.  He is shown in human form, somewhat mummy like with only hands appearing from the shroud and with a close-shaven head.  Ptah is seen in combination with Sokar and Osiris and later with the god Tatenen.  He is the god of all craftsmen through the idea of in-formation whereby thought can be brought into being through the artist’s skills.  He is also seen as the intellectual principal in creation.  
Re The sun god of Heliopolis where he combined with Atum and Horus to form Re-Atum (usually in human form as the primordial god, lord of the universal order, and god of earth and sky) and Re-Harakhti (Lord of the Horizon, usually as a falcon headed human).  He becomes a national god in the Fifth Dynasty and later in the Middle Kingdom is combined with Amon to form the supreme deity of Amon-Re.  He is combined with many other gods and is viewed as creator of the world.  His solar bark travels across the sky by day and through the underworld  by night.  It is this nightly journey that is shown in the New Kingdom Books of Amduat, Gates, and Caverns that cover the walls of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Sekhmet   As the wife of Ptah and the mother of Nefertem she makes up the triad of gods at Memphis.  Her name carries the force of "Mighty One" or "Most Powerful One" and she was seen as a fierce goddess of war, plague, and a bringer of destruction to the enemies of Re.  She is sometimes referred to on monuments as "Mistress of Fear."  In the story of the "Destruction of Mankind" she is the messenger of Re whose form Hathor took, in order to wipe out all mankind.  She is usually shown as a woman with the head of a lioness.

         Selket (Srkht)   Upper Egyptian, human form, scorpion goddess most often seen as a woman with a scorpion on her head.  One of her roles is as protectress of the dead and so she is seen with Isis at the foot of coffins.  She is commonly seen assisting Isis in performing funerary rites for Osiris and in protection of the infant Horus. 

Seth Often referred to as the god of confusion, Seth is known for his violent and chaotic nature.  He is considered by the Egyptians to be the god of storms and the opposite of Horus who represents the "good son" of Osiris.  Seth is the murderer of Osiris in myth and is always connected with the marginal areas of the world such as the desert and foreign lands.  One may say that he is representative of the opposite end of the tension created by Horus who represents good at one end and Seth who represents chaos at the other.  This dichotomy is however necessary to maintain the Egyptian world view that the correct way lies at the midpoint between the two opposing forces.
Shu         The personified god of the space between the earth and sky.  The son of Atum and consort of Tefnut as seen in the Heliopolitan Ennead.  It is through his separation of the earth and sky that he takes part in the creation of the world.  He is usually in human form but sometimes, especially when seen with Tefnut, he may have a lions head.


Sobek  Crocodile god with main centers in the Faiyum and in the south at Kom Ombo.  Seen as a human with a crocodile head or as a crocodile, he became united with Re in the Middle Kingdom as Sobek-Re and was worshiped as a creator deity.
Sokar Originally associated with craftsmen, this god was the ancient falcon headed god of the Memphite region who later became a major chthonic (underworld) and afterlife deity.  He is frequently seen in what is termed the ‘henu barque,’ and is frequently referred to in the Pyramid Texts.  Referred to at times as ‘he of Rostau,’ which alludes to the area between Giza and Saqqara where the entrance to the underworld and his tomb are supposed to lie, Sokar was equated early on with the Memphite god Ptah as Ptah-Sokar and by Middle Kingdom times with Osiris to form the tripartite deity Ptah-Sokar-Osiris.  In this form he remained an important funerary deity for the remainder of the dynastic period.  In addition to the falcon headed representation, he can be seen as a mummiform human headed god in the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris triad.  Perhaps his most famous representation is that seen in the coffin of Sheshonq II, found at Tanis, where the falcon head is seen in this kings silver coffin.  This can be viewed in the Cairo Museum, second floor west corridor. 

Sons of Horus     Four lesser deities seen as guardians of the Canopic jars, the vessels wherein the internal organs of the deceased were placed.  Early examples of these jars occur during the First Intermediate Period. The texts associated with each jar became standardized by New Kingdom times and the switch from human headed forms to animal forms was accomplished by the Ramesside Period. In later times small figurines of these guardians were buried with the deceased when the internal organs were not placed in the canopic jars. Following is a listing of these four deities, the organ each protected and the cardinal direction with which each was associated. These four are often seen standing on an open lotus flower in front of the throne of Osiris in the judgment scene in the Book of the Dead, chapter 125.

Imseti (human headed, represented the South) guarded the liver and was associated with Isis;
Hapy (ape headed, represented the North) guarded the lungs, associated with Nephthys;

Duamutef (jackal headed, represented the East) guarded the stomach, associated with Neith;

Qebehsenuef  (falcon headed, represented the West) guarded the intestines and was associated with Selket. 

Sothis  The star Sirius whose rising just before sunrise following an absence of seventy days marks the beginning of the Egyptian civil year.  Worshiped from the earliest of times as the herald of the Nile flood.  Considered a goddess and depicted as a cow or in human form and often as a manifestation of Isis whose consort Osiris was thought of as Orion.
   Tefnut Goddess who is the daughter of Atum and consort of Shu.  Part of the first divine pair in the Heliopolitan Ennead, she likely personifies the element of moisture.  Seen with her partner Shu as a pair of lions.
Thoth  The moon god whose origin may be in the Delta region, he is the scribe of the gods, lord of wisdom, patron of the art of writing and because of his lunar association, master of chronology.  Usually depicted as an ibis or baboon, he is the titular head of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad.  The Greeks saw him as Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Wepwawet  The "Opener of the Ways," a jackal headed god from Assiut often confused with Anubis.  At Abydos he is linked with the Osiris cult and is the god of the necropolis there.