The daily journey of Ra, the sun god in ancient Egyptian mythology, was a symbolic and central belief that held deep significance in Egyptian religion and cosmology.
Below, World History Edu presents the fundamental concepts that this belief represented in ancient Egypt:
The concept of renewal
Ra’s journey through the underworld during the night, only to emerge again at dawn, symbolized the daily renewal of life. The rising sun brought light, warmth, and energy to the world, rejuvenating all living things. This daily cycle of rebirth and renewal was seen as essential for the sustenance of life on Earth.
Af or Afu, often referred to as Afu-Ra, represents the ram-headed manifestation of Ra during his journey through the Duat, which encompasses the 12 hours of night and the underworld. During this voyage, Ra is seated on the Mesektet barque. The creator deity is accompanied by Sia (the embodiment of perception), who is positioned on the left and at the front of the barque, as well as Heka (i.e. the manifestation of magic) situated on the right and behind the barque. This sacred journey is safeguarded by the presence of the protective coiled serpent deity known as Mehen.
These deities, in addition to the likes of Seth, Hathor, and Sekhmet, were regarded as unique forces that assisted the creator in his journey through the underworld. While Heka had a dedicated following and cult, Sia did not enjoy the same level of devotion and recognition.
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The daily renewal of Ra served as a fundamental cornerstone of Egyptian religious thought and cosmology. It offered a deep insight into the perpetual rhythms of life, death, and the cosmos. The themes of resurrection and the cyclical essence of existence were central, profoundly influencing Egyptian culture, spirituality, and perspective on the world. Image: Solar deity Ra in his ram-headed form traveling through the underworld in his solar barque on the subterrestrial Nile, from the copy of the Book of Gates in the tomb of Ramses I (KV16)
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Ra’s daily rebirth served as a powerful metaphor for the idea of resurrection and life after death. Just as Ra experienced a symbolic death each night and returned to life each morning, the ancient Egyptians believed in the possibility of an afterlife where the soul could experience a similar rebirth. This belief was central to their funerary practices and rituals, where preparations were made to ensure a successful journey to the afterlife.
The Cyclical Nature of Life and Death
Ra’s daily journey reflected the Egyptians’ understanding of the cyclical nature of existence. Life and death were not viewed as linear, but as part of an eternal and repeating cycle. This cyclical worldview emphasized that, just as the sun rose and set each day, life would continue in an unending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
Ra was a significant deity in the Egyptian pantheon and represented the sun. His daily journey across the sky and his subsequent rebirth highlighted the importance of the sun as a life-giving force. Ra was often depicted with a solar disk on his head, emphasizing his solar attributes and role in sustaining life on Earth. Image: Depiction of Ra’s barge (supposedly a Mandjet barge model) being processed. Carved onto a wall of a Temple of Isis on the Philae Island, Egypt.
Ra’s daily resurrection was closely linked to the concept of Ma’at, which represented cosmic order, balance, and harmony in Egyptian belief. Ra’s return each day symbolized the maintenance of this divine order and the perpetuation of a balanced and orderly universe.
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Ra was a significant deity in the Egyptian pantheon and represented the sun. His daily journey across the sky and his subsequent rebirth highlighted the importance of the sun as a life-giving force. Ra was often depicted with a solar disk on his head, emphasizing his solar attributes and role in sustaining life on Earth.
Ancient Egyptians believed that the sun’s rising and setting represented the constant cycle of creation, destruction, and rebirth in the universe. Image: Ancient Egyptian god Ra embarks on his daily journey across the sky aboard the solar barque, adorned with the radiant sun-disk.
The belief in Ra’s daily resurrection influenced daily religious practices in ancient Egypt. Daily rituals, prayers, and offerings were made to honor Ra and ensure the successful continuation of his journey, as well as the well-being of the world.