W. M. Flinders (William Matthew Flinders) Petrie.

Religion and conscience in ancient Egypt : lectures delivered at University College, London online

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Concerning the future state of man there
were at least three wholly contradictory
theories ; the Earthly, the Elysian, and the
Solar theories : and it is probable that the
mummy theory is a fourth.

The Earthly theory was that of the ka, or
double, which, as we have seen, had the feel-
ings and the activities of life, only limited
by the inability to act on matter. This ka
required a supply of food, in the form of
continually renewed offerings, for which a
place of offering was provided in front of the
doorway which led to the tomb-pit. Up that
pit from the sepulchre passed the ka, and
also the ba or .soul, and coming out through
the imitation door that was provided it fed
on the offerings which were laid on the altar
in front of the door. Soon a recess was
made for the altar by added coatings to the
mastaba that developed into a chamber, and
then that chamber was elaborated into a
dwelling for the ka, its walls were covered
with figures of offerings and of servants, and
large granaries and store-rooms were pro-
vided in it. Being incapable of acting on
matter, the image of an offering was as good
as the object itself to the ka ; and so the
continually renewed offerings of the earliest



times became changed for the permanent
pictures of the offerings. This view of the
ka and the ba was associated with the tree-
spirit worship, and these together formed a
domestic worship, which was associated with
niches or figures of doorways in dwellings
where the ancestors were adored. All of this
theory implies a continued after-life upon the
earth, dependent on earthly support.

17. The Elysian theory was entirely in-
dependent of any connection with the earth.
The dead became the subjects of the great
god of the dead, Osiris ; they lived in Aalu,
a mythic land beyond the ken of man, at first
supposed to be on earth or later on in heaven.
There they navigated on the canals, they
tilled the soil, they planted, they watered,
they reaped. And admission to this dupli-
cate of earthly life was obtained by a test
of weighing the heart to see if it were true
and right, and denying the commission of
all earthly sins before the judgment-seat of
Osiris. Here we have a totally different
theory, and one which left no time or oppor-
tunity for the ka to wander on this earth,
and no need for it to be provided with
earthly sustenance.

The Solar theory was equally independent


of both of the others. The deceased flew
up to the sun, and joined the solar bark : he
passed through all the perils of the night
under the protection of Ra, and emerged
into new day at sunrise. For ever he dwelt
with Ra, and shared his dangers by night
and his success by day.

18. Now, none of these theories, it will
be observed, requires the mummy. The
Elysian and Solar theories ignore the body
on earth ; and the figure of the deceased in
the Osirian judgment is always as a living
person, and not a mummy. It is only in the
age of greatest confusion and mixture, under
the Ptolemies and Emperors, that the mummy
is supported by Anubis into the presence of
Osiris. The ka and ba theory might involve
the preservation of the mummy ; and in the
comparatively late age of the New Kingdom
the ba flies down the tomb-pit to the mummy,
and the ba lingers longingly on the breast
of the mummy pleading to return to its
place. But the earlier evidence may make
us doubt whether mummification were an
original part of the ka and ba theory. Why,
for example, should the ka require sustenance
if the mummified body remains unaltered
and imperishable.'^ And at the beginning


of the IVth Dynasty mummification was at
a point of elaborate resemblance to the living
body, by modelling in resin, a system which
rapidly deteriorated a few generations later ;
such a history indicates that it was a some-
what recent introduction, whereas the ka and
ba theory is probably of the earliest race and
age, before the Elysian or Solar theories.
It seems, then, probable that the mummi-
fying may belong to another theory — that
of revivification, with which it is always
associated by writers ; whereas there is
neither place nor purpose in any bodily re-
vivification in the ka theory or the Elysian
or Solar theories. There are then certainly
three, and perhaps four, views about the
soul which have no original unity, but rather
show a complete discordance, apparently due
to different origins and races.

19. Now, as there are diversities in the
beliefs about the soul, so there are like di-
versities in the beliefs about the divinities.
It is familiar how confused the mythology
is owing to parallel gods — alike, yet distinct ;
and fused gods — unalike, yet combined ; how
a god would be in power at one time and
rejected at another. All this change is
vaguely put down to local influences, which


Is only the first step in tracing the causation.
Differences between neighbouring places in
their fundamental beliefs are not mere
senseless vagaries ; they imply a difference
between the people — that is, a difference in
race. According to most Egyptologists the
variety of gods was determined by the
different beliefs of every petty capital of
every province of Egypt. Yet these authori-
ties avoid the conclusion that these gods
belong to different ancestries. Let us just
see what this position requires of us. If the
gods arise without difference of ancestry in
their worshippers — and it is admitted that
all the principal gods are far prehistoric —
then we have the view that there existed in
Egypt a unified mass of population, which
had mingled without having any previous
mythologies ; and subsequently in Egypt
they evolved different gods at many different
centres. This is what is generally tacitly
assumed, even by Maspero, who sees the
perspective of the history of mythology far
more than any other authority. But such
a view requires us to believe that for long
ages, while these gods were being evolved
and brought into contact in Egypt, not a
single serious immigration of foreign races


had taken place. In short, that though the
known history of Egypt shows a great influx
of neighbouring people every few centuries,
we are asked to suppose that such mixtures
were quite Insignificant In all the far longer
prehistoric ages, while the gods were in
course of evolution. Such a view, thus
reduced to historic parallelism, is an insult
to our sense of probability.

20. That great mixtures of race had taken
place In the prehistoric ages, probably oftener
than once in a thousand years, is practically
certain, when we view the known history.
And as such mixtures always produce local
diversity, we should expect to see differences
and Incongruities between the beliefs of all
the principal, and even the minor, centres of
population. In one town the A tribe would
be strongest ; In the next the B tribe still
remained In power ; on the opposite side the
C tribe had later thrust themselves In. Such
Is the view which Is forced upon us by the
historic probabilities of the country. Hence,
local differences are only another name for
tribal differences and diversities of origin.

It may be said that we do not see such
new gods being Introduced by the migrations
during historic times, and hence we should


not expect these changes to resuh from the
prehistoric migrations. This Is a very partial
view. In the first place new gods were need-
less, because almost every race that could
burst into Egypt had already come in and
planted their gods, hence reconquests by the
same race a second time merely brought
forward their already-present god. To take
an acknowledged Instance, the Libyan con-
quest by the XXI Ind and XXVIth Dynasties
forced Neith, the Libyan goddess, Into pro-
minence, after she had almost disappeared in
Egypt. When a really fresh race came in
their gods then appear also as new gods
in Egypt, such as the Syrian gods and the
Greek gods. Then, moreover, when once
the religion had become fixed by written
formulae and types of worship on monu-
ments, the beliefs already figured on the
spot held their ground against the unwritten
faith of the moving immigrants.

While, therefore, fully recognizing that the
diversities of belief were local, and that the
prominence of a deity was largely due to the
political importance of his centre of worship,
yet we must logically see behind these local
differences the racial and tribal differences
by which they were caused ; and behind the


political power of a place we must perceive
the political power of the race who dwelt
there, and whose beliefs were spread around
by their political predominance. Amen-wor-
ship spread from Thebes, or Neit-worship
from Sais, not merely because those places
were the seat of power, but because the
people of those places who worshipped Amen
and Neit extended their power and dwelt as
governors and officials in the rest of the
country. It is race and not place that is
the real cause of chancre.

2 1. One of the best known incongruities
is the position of Set. In the earliest times
Set and Horus appear as co-equal or twin-
gods (M.E.E., 329) closely associated. In
the Vlllth Chapter of the Book of the
Dead the deceased, who is usually identified
with Osiris, states that he is identical with
Set : while, evidently after the antagonistic
view of Set and Horus had come in, a
sentence was added deprecating the wrath
of Horus. Now the possibility of such a
view of Set is explained by the earliest
history of Horus. Maspero states that I sis
was originally the Virgin-mother, dwelling
alone as a separate sole goddess at Buto,
from whom Horus was self- produced


(M.H.A., 131). The union of Osiris to
Isis, and his adoption of Horns, was a
later modification. Hence there was no
Incongruity In the earliest view of Horus
and Set being honoured side by side. But
when Horus became the step-son of Osiris,
later the full son of Osiris himself, he was
bound to be antagonistic to Set. That Set
belongs to the Libyans or Westerns Is pro-
bable, because he Is considered to have red
hair and a white skin ; in fact, the Tahennu,
or clear-race complexion. And it is probable
that the Osiris- Isis group is also of Libyan
origin, as we shall see later on.

Hence we may picture to ourselves the
gods Isis, Osiris, and Set, as the three divini-
ties of different tribes of Libyans. So long
as the Isis worshippers and Set worshippers
were in fraternity and tribal union, Horus
and Set were coequal gods. But when the
Osiris worshippers, with whom the Setites
were at feud, united with the Islac tribe, and
Osiris was married to Isis, it became the
duty of Horus to fight Set. Accordingly
we see the war of Horus and Set throuQrhout
Egypt, and garrisons of the followers of
Horus were established by the side of the
principal centres of Set worship to keep


down the Setlte tribe. (See Masp., Etudes
li. 324.) This tribal view of the rehgious
discordances and changes seems to be the
only rational cause that can be assigned.
That tribal wars existed no one would
venture to dispute, and that religious changes
would ensue from political changes we see
exemplified all through the history of Egypt.
The cause existed for such divergences, and
it was capable of producing these diver-
gences : while no other reasonable cause can
be assigned, and the gods are expressly
represented as fighting and vanquishing each
other's followers. We need hardly say that
the Syrian god Sutekh, which comes in
about the XlXth Dynasty, has no connection
with the primitive Egyptian god Set.

22. Another puzzling and discordant
element in the mythology is the goddess
Hathor. She is the most ubiquitous deity
of all. Yet she is seldom worshipped alone
and unmodified, and she is usually identified
with some other goddess or with a female
form of some god. Sekhet, Neit, lusaas, Best,
Uazit, Mut, Hekt, and Aset are all identi-
fied with her at different places, and she
appears as female forms of Sopd, Behudt,
Anpu, and Tanen. She has no permanent


characteristics, no special attributes. The
uncouth human face with cow's ears and
modified cow's horns is the only typical form
of the goddess, and the cow and the sistrum
are her only emblems ; but these distinctions
are not constant. Worshipped in every
nome of Upper and Lower Egypt, she was
yet one of the most evasive deities, and most
easily modified and combined.

Let us reflect on what this indicates. That
the worship was thus general, equally diffused
over the country, points to the country having
been under a uniform condition of subjection
to her worshippers. While the fact that at
no centre is she solely worshipped, and at
very few places even prominently, points to
other deities having been already in posses-
sion of the country when her devotees spread
her adoration. Where then are we to look
for her native land ? It has been shown that
Hathor was lady of Punt, and was thence
introduced into Egypt. And we may see
further confirmation of this. The only places
outside of Egypt with which she is connected
are Punt, Mafekt (Sinai) — where the Punites
are very likely to have settled on the Red
Sea — and Kapna. This last is usually
rendered as equal to the Gubla or Byblos,


but another Kapna was in the land of Punt,
and in the only place where Hathor is lady
of Kapna she is also lady of Wawat on the
Upper Nile. (Rec. II. 120.) Hence it is
more likely that the Kapna of Hathor is a
district of Punt. Further, of I sis, who is
identified at Dendera with Hathor, it is said,
" Isis was born in the Iseum of Dendera of
Apt, the great one of the temple of Apt,
under the form of a woman black and red."
(M. Dend. text 30.) This points to a southern
origin. The Punites are coloured dark red,
and the neighbouring peoples black, while
the Asiatics are yellow, and the Libyans fair.
When we come to look to the nature of the
goddess we see further connection. That
Min was a Punite god is most likely, as his
position at Koptos on the Red Sea road
indicates, as well as his three colossal statues
there, apparently carved by a Red Sea people
in prehistoric time. And Min was the great
father-god. Hathor is the co-relative mother-
god, she in whom dwells the son Hon Her
character as the universal mother is well
recognized, and is pkinly on a par with the
idea of Min as the great father. Thus the
two gods whom we are led to connect with
the Punite race by their position, are similar


in nature and point to a worship of reproduc-
tion apparently belonging to that people.
Another connection is seen in the position of
Hathor in the country. The only supreme
centre for her was at Dendera, which is
opposite to Koptos, the seat of Min, and
on the line of any invaders from the Red
Sea into the Nile valley.

That Hathor was brought in by a people
after the establishment of the other deities
we have already observed. And this exactly
agrees to her belonging to the Punite race
which founded the dynastic history. Their
great female divinity they identified with
every other goddess that they met through-
out Egypt, and established her worship also
as a local Hathor in every nome, calling her
the "princess of the gods." The whole
phenomena of the diffusion of her worship
are thus accounted for by the historical
connection in which her oriein leads us to
place her. Therefore, by her being stated
to come from Punt, by the foreign places to
which she is connected, by her colour, by
her being complementary to Min the other
Punite god, by the place of her main
sanctuary, and by the peculiar diffusion of
her worship, we are led to one conclusion


throuohout — that Hathor was the Punite
goddess introduced at the beginning of the
dynastic history.

23. Another prominent case of discordance
is in the worship of the crocodile god Sebek.
This was most prevalent in the Fayum,
''the lake of the crocodile"; and the marshy,
shallow margins of the wide lake as it then
was must have been very favourable to
such amphibia. Up the Nile other places
were also devoted to crocodile worship, such
as Sllsileh, Ombos, and Nubt, while at
neighbouring towns the animal was detested
and attacked, as at Dendera, Apollinopolis,
and Heracleopolls.

Here such discordant beliefs could not
be supposed to spring up side by side
amongst a homogeneous people living
together ; on the contrary, they show a
difference of thought and of belief which
must have been developed at different places
and under different conditions. Sebek was
a creative god ; being the largest and most
intelligent animal of the water, the crocodile
was the emblem of the ruler of the primordial
ocean. And in later times Osiris was
identified with the crocodile, and appears
as the reptile with a human head in the


Fayum. As it is impossible for the crocodile
worship to have originated outside of Egypt,
we may look on it as one of the oldest
worships in the country, as the people who
adopted such a belief cannot have had any
other very fixed or developed worship
already adopted. That it originated in the
Fayum is possible from its permanence
there, from that being a great haunt of
crocodiles in early times, and from a
western goddess, Neith, being figured as
suckling two crocodiles. The seats of
Sebek-worship elsewhere in Egypt might,
if so, point to migrations of the tribe who
occupied the Fayum in the earliest times.

We have now seen enough of these
examples of discordant beliefs to credit the
view that they are an evidence of the differ-
ences of race, and of the various elements
of the religion having been introduced by
different tribes from various quarters, who
had successively forced their way into

24. Before going further it will be well
to note some of the instances of changes
in the religion, and of one belief altering
or superseding another, which are already
observed and acknowledged by the best


students. The followinor illustrations are


all taken from the studies published by
Maspero, who well recognizes that "a
religion always has a history, at whatever
time after its origin we may view it," and
that a study of isolated gods must always
precede the treatment of their combined

Of the creative gods there are three —
Khnum, Sebek, and Ptah — which do not
correspond to the same view of creation,
and reigned over different worshippers, at
least at first. They were completely
strancrers, and sometimes enemies, with no
more connection than had the princes of
the very different districts of Egypt to
which they belonged. And even Ptah had
a long history, for Tatnen is the oldest
form of Ptah ; or rather as we should say,
a previous god of Memphis, who was
absorbed in the later god Ptah, and whose
memory was kept up by the compound
god Ptah-Tatnen. Ptah was alone at first,
and subsequently Sekhet was brought in
to the Memphite worship as the wife of
Ptah, although her previous position was
with Atmu of Heliopolis. Imhotep was
at first an epithet of Ptah, before being


made into a separate god as the son of

Turning to the HeHopolitan gods the
changes and growth are frequent. Shu,
who was at first space or air, was made
into a son of Atmu ; then later he became
identified with Atmu. In the later growth
of the Ra worship some kept to only a
human figure of Ra, and a hawk-headed
Horakhti ; others brought in new names
for the new conceptions — Atmu for the past
sun, Khepra for the present sun, &c.
Then these again became compounded,
as Atmu- Harakhti- Khepra.

At Thebes alterations are also seen.
The whole Thebaid was originally subject
to Mentu ; Amen then came forward, and
Mentu was reduced to being a son of Amen.

The gods of the dead varied as much as
any. Sokar at Memphis and Mertseger
at Thebes were the earliest. The kingdom
of Sokar in the west was adopted into the
Book of Duat ; as also was the kingdom
of Osiris in the north, and in the stars.
And Sokar became identified with Osiris
of the Delta, they both being gods of the
dead. Then Osiris became also mingled
with Khentamenti of Abydos, another god



of the dead. And Osiris was also married
to Isis, and established the popular Osirian
cycle. After that came the combination
of the Osiride and Sokar myths in the
various ritual books of the future life, where
the increasing solarization can be traced as
late as the XXth Dynasty. As Maspero
says, " The increasingly intimate connection
of Osiris and Ra, gradually mixed both
myths and dogmas which had been entirely
separate at first. The friends and enemies
of each became the friends and enemies
of the other, and lost their native character
in forming combined personages, in whom
the most contradictory elements were
mixed, often without succeeding in uniting

Later than all these changes, and attempted
unification of gods, whose nature or whose
territories overlapped, came the great sorting
movement of forming triads and enneads in
highly artificial orders and combinations,
which in their turn led up to the idea of
the unity of all the gods, that is so promi-
nent in the later pantheistic views. These
latest ideas put forward in the elaborate
and lengthy inscriptions of Ptolemaic times
are what have led many scholars to lose sight


of the several earlier stages which we have
here been noticing.

We have now seen how Important the
discordances and alterations of the Egyp-
tian religion are for throwing some light on
the history of its many modifications — a
history which passed away before our
earliest records, and which can only be
recovered by the comparison of different
and contradictory views. In these we
have embalmed for study the only frag-
ments of the prehistoric age that we can
work on ; and it is this which g^Ives such
study a value far beyond that belonging to
the religion alone. We gain a glimpse of
the perspective of the growth of mind.



25. To anyone attempting to look at
first at the mythology of Egypt, the great
number of gods and their often complex
and ill-defined attributes, render the view
most perplexing and repulsive. It appears
almost impossible to master the multitude
of details, and as if they had little reality
and significance when at last understood.
We have in the previous sections considered
how such a complex subject should be
approached, and what the laws are of a
mixture of religions ; we have then reviewed
the popular religion as being the simplest,
and showing the point of view of the Egyp-
tian mind ; then we have noted the discor-
dances, the contradictions and duplications,
and the most obvious changes in mythology,
as evidence of its complex origin. Lastly



we now turn to making a brief analysis of
the whole mass of supernatural existences
which were recognized in Egypt, so as to
gain a grasp of the whole material, and to
be able to realize its extent and its nature.
All of this study may be regarded as
prolegomena to the treatment of the
mythology in detail ; but without such a
consideration of principles, and system of
classification, we should grope helplessly in
the dark, and feel that our view was but
partial and imperfect. We may in such a
o-eneral review as this omit much that is
important and overlook many beliefs which
were prominent and familiar ; but at least we
shall see the plan of the whole field and
realize its extent and the relation of its
parts. It will then remain to explore each
myth and trace each deity separately, with
the general clue in hand of its position and
relation to other beliefs around it.

For this general analysis we may take
Lanzone's Mythology as a standard list. No
doubt many obscure and derivative spirits
may yet be brought to light ; but they will
only swell the least important section of the
mythology. The total number of gods,
spirits, and sacred beings or animals in this



record is about 438. These may be classi-
fied in the following groups : —

Hades, spirits and genii


serpents ....

1 3 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryW. M. Flinders (William Matthew Flinders) PetrieReligion and conscience in ancient Egypt : lectures delivered at University College, London → online text (page 3 of 9)