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What Are Characteristics of Egyptian Mythology?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 23, 2024
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Egyptian mythology is marvelous and complex, with a pantheon of powerful gods and goddesses that ruled the natural world as well as the human one. One common element found in the myths is the supremacy of the pharaoh, who was believed to be the chosen intermediary between the gods and the world of humankind. Not only could the pharaoh interact with the gods, but individuals could send pleas on the wings of prayers or even attempt to corral the powers of a mythological being through the use of enchantment.

There is no question that ritual associated with Egyptian mythology was at the heart of Egyptian society. Without regular, ceremonial sacrifices to any number of gods and goddesses, Egyptians believed the world would descend into chaos. To avert this possibility, they invested a tremendous amount of money and social effort into building temples and designing rituals to appease these mythological forces of nature.

Egyptians weren’t only concerned with life on earth; their pantheon also ruled the afterlife. Highly ritualized funerary and entombment practices included mummification and burial with objects the corpse had cherished on earth and would need in death. Pharaohs were entombed in pyramid interiors with tremendous ceremony.

To the Egyptians, the cosmos was fixed, permanent, and fair. These qualities were reflected in Egyptian mythology and imitated within their culture. There was order in the universe, it was believed; therefore, things that occurred were a matter of righteous justice. Circularity in nature, found in the rising and setting of the sun, the birth and death of the pharaohs, and the flooding of Nile were metaphors of the greater circularity of all things.

With so many gods and goddesses and so many communities that had little interaction, it is no surprise that a vast number of conflicting myths that address the origin of the universe, fertility, and the existence of the soul would exist. Different regions would hold particular gods in higher regard, and these mythological beings would become central to the most important stories. This did not cause religious conflict, with one group trying to force their beliefs on another. Instead, multiple versions of the same stories were allowed to exist side by side.

Among the gods a goddesses found in Egyptian mythology, primary beings included Nut, the queen of the sky, and Geb, who symbolized the earth itself. Beyond Nut, Nu, the god of chaos, retained control. Duat owned the underworld of death and rebirth, and Ra, god of the Sun, traversed nightly in order to become reborn.

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