|Other Egyptian Gods|
Ra, or Re, is one of the most famous Egyptian godforms, and was central to Egyptian religion. He was the seen as the king of the gods, ruler of the sun, and creator of the world. His vital daily task was to guide the sunboat through the skies by day, and through the underworld by night. He was also seen as the personal patron of the Pharaoh, and from the IV Dynasty onwards Pharaoh's called themselves the "Sons of Ra".
|Table of contents|
Ra is most commonly pronounced 'rah'. It is more likely, however, that it should be pronounced as 'ray', hence the alternative spelling Re rather than Ra. It is not known for sure what Ra's name means, but it is thought it may be a variant of or linked to 'creative', if not an original word for 'sun'.
Ra is mostly shown as a man in artwork, wearing a Pharaoh's crown (a sign of his kingship over the gods) and the sun disk on his head. Often he had a falcon's head, much like Horus. Sometimes, Ra is portrayed differently according to the position of the sun in the sky. At sunrise he was an infant, at noon a man, and at sunset an old man. This constant aging was suggested by the Egyptians as the reason Ra stayed separate from the world and let Osiris and/or Horus rule in his place. This idea is often coupled with the myth in which Isis is able to trick an elderly Ra, having ruled on earth as a human Pharaoh, into revealing his secret name, and thus the secret of his power.
Ra often replaces Atum as the father, grandfather and great-grandfather of the gods of the Ennead, and creator of the world. Ra created Sekhmet, who becomes Hathor after she has sufficiently punished mankind as an avenging Eye of Ra, and so is often said to be the father of both. Mankind was supposedly created from Ra's tears or sweat, leading to the Egyptians calling themselves the "Cattle of Ra".
Ra shared many of his symbols with other solar deities, in particular Horus.
- The Benu bird, as Ra's ba and a symbol of fire and rebirth;
- The sun disk, also shown as the hieroglyphic ⊙ ;
- Ankh, symbolizing the life given by the sun;
- Obelisk, representative of the rays of the sun and worshiped as a home of a solar god;
- Pyramids, aligned east/west
- Uraeus, a cobra commonly seen wrapped around the sun disk. As the sun, Ra was thought to see everything.
Ra and the sun
For the Egyptians, the sun most basically represented light, warmth and therefore growth. This made Ra hugely important to Egyptians, and it is probably therefore no coincidence that he is also seen as the ruler of all. The sun was either seen as the body or eye of Ra.
The sun was thought to travel in a boat, to protect its fires from the primordial waters (Nun) of the underworld it passed through during the night. Ra travelled in the sunboat with various gods, including Ma'at who guided the boat's course and Set and Mehen who defended against monsters in the underworld. These monsters included Apep, the serpent who tried to stop the sunboat's journey every day by consuming it. So, the Egyptians saw the sunrise as the rebirth of the sun through Nut, the sky, and thus attributed the concept of rebirth and renewal to Ra, strengthening his role as a creator god.
As the cults of various solar deities rose and fell, Ra's role as the most well-known solar god in the Egyptian pantheon constantly changed. Horus, Ra, Aten and Amun-Ra exchanged roles as actually being worshiped as the sun, even though all three retained their solar links. Ra, and sometimes Horus, were broken down into several smaller aspect gods, who presided over the sun at sunrise, noon and sunset.
Ra's combination with other deities
As with most widely worshiped Egyptian godforms, Ra's identity was often confused with other gods as different regional religions were merged in an attempt to unite the country.
Amun and Amun-Ra
Amun was a member of the Ogdoad, representing creation energies with Amaunet, and was a very early patron of Thebes. He was believed to create via breath, and thus was identified with the wind rather than the sun. As the cults of Amun and Ra became increasingly popular in Upper and Lower Egypt respectively, they were combined to create Amun-Ra, a solar creator god. It is hard to distinguish exactly when this combination happened, with references being made in pyramid texts to Amun-Ra as early as the V Dynasty. The most common belief is that Amun-Ra was invented as the new state deity by the (Theban) rulers of the New Kingdom to unite worshipers of Amun with the older cult of Ra, beginning around the XVIII Dynasty. Ironically, the cult of Amun-Ra was effectively just as monotheistic as Akhenaten's worship of Aten, and the cult became so powerful that it rivalled the monarchy.
Atum and Atum-Ra
Atum-Ra (or Ra-Atum) was another composite deity formed from two completely separate deities. However, Ra shared more similarities with Atum than with Amun. Atum was more closely linked with the sun, and was also a creator god of the Ennead. Both Ra and Atum were regarded as the father of the gods and Pharaohs, and were widely worshiped. So, it was almost inevitable that the two cults were merged under the name of Atum-Ra.
Ra-Horakhty or Ra-Hoor-Khuit
In Egyptian mythology, Ra-Horakhty was more of a title, or manifestation, than a composite god. It translates as "Ra, who is Horus of the Horizons". It was intended to link Horakhty (as a sunrise-orientated aspect of Horus) to Ra. It has been suggested that Ra-Horakhty simply refers to the sun's journey from horizon to horizon as Ra, or that it means to show Ra as a symbolic god of hope and rebirth. (See earlier section: Ra and the sun) This link was probably encouraged by Ra and Horus' common link to the sun and the Pharaoh.
In Thelema, Ra-Horakhty was renamed Ra-Hoor-Khuit by Aleister Crowley. Ra-Hoor-Khuit not only links Ra and Horus, but makes them into one as a singular representation of solar energies. He is the speaker throughout Chapter III of the fundamental text Liber AL vel Legis, and is seen as the Child and King of the New Aeon.
Khepri and Khnum
Khepri was the scarab beetle that rolled up the sun in the mornings, and was sometimes seen as the morning manifestation of Ra. Similarly, the ram-headed god Khnum was also seen as the evening manifestation of Ra. The idea of different gods (or different aspects of Ra) ruling over different times of the day was fairly common, but variable. With Khepri and Khnum taking precedence over sunrise and sunset, Ra was often the representation of midday, when the sun reached it's peak at noon. Sometimes different aspects of Horus were used instead of Ra's aspects. In Thelema's Liber Resh vel Helios, Ra represents the rising sun, with Hathor as the midday sun and Tum as the setting sun.
Worship of Ra
His cult began to grow from roughly the II Dynasty, establishing Ra as the sun god. By the IV Dynasty the Pharaoh's were seen to be Ra's manifestations on earth, referred to as "Sons of Ra". His worship increased massively in the V Dynasty, when he became a state deity and Pharaohs had specially aligned pyramids, obelisks and solar temples built in his honour. The first Pyramid Texts began to arise, giving Ra more and more significance in the journey of the Pharaoh through the underworld.
By XI Dynasty, Ra had become much like the theist Christian God. Mythology told that he had created the world for man, and that evil was a result of mankind's actions. In this respect Ra was closely affiliated with Ma'at, goddess of law and truth. It was even implied that he would punish the evil after death. The Middle Kingdom saw Ra being increasingly combined and affiliated with other deities, especially Amun and Osiris.
During the New Kingdom, the worship of Ra becomes yet more complicated and grand. The walls of tombs were dedicated to extremely detailed texts that told of Ra's journey through the underworld. Ra was also now said to carry the prayers and blessings of the living with the souls of the dead on the sunboat. The New Kingdom appears to be when the idea that Ra aged with the sun was most popular.
Many acts of worship included hymns, prayers and spells to help Ra and the sunboat overcome Apep.
- Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Re (http://www.egyptianmyths.net/re.htm)
- Crystalinks.com: Ra (http://www.crystalinks.com/ra.html)
- Tour Egypt: Ra (http://www.touregypt.net/godsofegypt/ra.htm)
- Wikipedia: Ra (2005) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ra)