Worshipped as the god of the afterlife, death, and resurrection, Osiris was the central deity of the underworld. He was murdered by his brother, Seth, and later resurrected by his wife, Isis, becoming the lord of the dead. The deceased aspired to become identified with Osiris in the afterlife.
Anubis was revered as the god of mummification and protector of graves. Ancient Egyptians often depicted Anubis as a jackal or a man with a jackal’s head. He presided over mummification and guided souls to the Hall of Maat for judgment. It’s believed that he used to be the god of the afterlife before Osiris took that role from him.
Anubis holds a distinctive role in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion as the god of mummification and the afterlife. Often depicted with a jackal’s head on a human body, his association with the jackal was likely because these animals prowled cemeteries, connecting them with the dead.
Anubis’s primary responsibility was to oversee the mummification process, ensuring the deceased was prepared correctly. His role extended into the afterlife, where he conducted the “Weighing of the Heart” ceremony. In this ritual, the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather of Ma’at, representing truth and order. Anubis ensured that the scales were balanced, determining the soul’s fate in the afterlife.
A heart that does not balance in the scale of truth (i.e. the scale of Ma’at) was instantly gulped up by the fierce creature Ammit. It means the soul went extinct forever. Image: Ammit and Anubis at the scale of truth (Ma’at)
Though he was later overshadowed by Osiris in matters of the underworld, Anubis remained vital in the death rituals of ancient Egypt. His presence signified protection, judgment, and the assured transition from life to death, bridging the mortal realm with the divine.
READ MORE: How does Anubis’ role differ from Osiris’ in the Underworld?
The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus. Wall painting in the tomb of Horemheb (KV57)
Best known as the goddess of truth and balance, Maat personified the cosmic order. It was believed that in the Hall of Maat, the deceased’s heart was weighed against her feather. If balanced, the soul could proceed to paradise. Image: Ma’at depicted with an ostrich feather in her hair.
Maat, central to ancient Egyptian mythology and religion, embodies truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. Represented as a young woman with an ostrich feather on her head, Maat’s principles governed both the cosmos and every aspect of Egyptian society.
Her concept was essential for the universe’s functioning. Without Maat, chaos would prevail. The sun god Ra relied on her principles to travel safely across the sky, and the deceased needed to demonstrate they lived according to Maat to successfully enter the afterlife.
During the judgment ceremony, the deceased’s heart was weighed against Maat’s feather. If balanced, they gained eternal life. But if heavy with sin, it was devoured by Ammit, resulting in total annihilation.
Pharaohs were the “upholders of Maat,” responsible for ensuring its principles permeated society. Often, rulers would offer small images of the goddess as a symbol of their dedication to these ideals.
READ MORE: Importance of Ma’at in Ancient Egyptian Mythology and Religion
Thoth, a prominent deity in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion, epitomizes wisdom, knowledge, writing, and the moon. Often depicted as an ibis-headed man or a baboon, Thoth played multifaceted roles in the cosmic and mortal realms.
Renowned as the divine scribe, Thoth was believed to have created hieroglyphic writing, enabling the documentation of knowledge and religious texts. His association with the moon made him a key deity in determining time and regulating the calendar.
Hermopolis – Thoth’s place of worship Khnum (Khemenu)
Thoth was also an arbitrator, resolving disputes among the gods. His wisdom was pivotal in the Osirian myth, where he helped Isis resurrect Osiris and protected Horus during his battles with Seth.
Furthermore, Thoth’s role was crucial in the afterlife. He recorded the results when a deceased’s heart was weighed against the feather of Maat, determining the soul’s fate in the afterlife.
His vast knowledge also positioned him as the god of magic and medicine. For ancient Egyptians, Thoth was a symbol of intellectual achievement, ensuring order in both the cosmos and human endeavors.
Thoth was the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, magic and writing. He was generally depicted as an ibis or a man with an ibis’s head, Thoth was one of the primary deities of the Egyptian underworld, where he recorded the results of the judgment in the Hall of Maat.
Ammit, often referred to as the “Devourer of the Dead” in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion, played a pivotal role in the afterlife’s judgment process. Neither god nor demon, she is usually depicted as a fearsome hybrid creature—part lion, part hippopotamus, and part crocodile, each representing different aspects of the wild and unpredictable.
Ammit during the Judgment of Dead.
Her primary function was in the Hall of Maat, where the hearts of the deceased were weighed against the feather of Maat, symbolizing truth and order. If the heart, heavy with wrongdoing, outweighed the feather, it was deemed impure. Ammit would then devour the heart, resulting in the total annihilation of the individual’s soul, denying them eternal life.
Despite her terrifying role, Ammit did not act out of malice. Instead, she maintained the cosmic balance, ensuring only the just and righteous entered the afterlife. For ancient Egyptians, she was a symbol of the consequences of straying from the path of righteousness and Maat.
Feared as the “Devourer of the Unjust”, Ammit is an underworld creature. Ancient Egyptians depicted her with parts from a crocodile, lioness, and hippopotamus. Per ancient Egyptian texts, Ammit awaited those souls deemed unworthy during the weighing of the heart, consuming them and preventing their passage to paradise. Image: Depiction of Ammit
Known as the goddess of the night and death, Nephythys was an important deity in ancient Egypt. She was sister to Osiris, Isis, and Set.
Not only was Nephthys associated with issues of death and mourning, but she was also the wife/sister of Set (Seth), the Egyptian god of chaos. As a protector of the dead and mourner, Nephthys was often paired with her sister, the goddess Isis. It’s believed that Nephthys assisted in resurrecting Osiris and was invoked for protection in funerary rites.
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Kites of Nephthys in ancient Egypt
Horus was worshiped as a major Egyptian deity. His sphere of control included protection and offering guidance to the dead in the Duat. Image: Statue-temple-Horus-Egypt-Idfu
Horus, a pivotal deity in ancient Egyptian mythology, represents both the sky and kingship. Born to Isis and Osiris, he embodies the triumph of order over chaos.
After his father Osiris was treacherously killed by Seth, Horus engaged in epic battles with Seth to avenge his father and reclaim the throne of Egypt. These confrontations symbolize the eternal struggle between order (Ma’at) and disorder.
Horus is often depicted as a falcon or a man with a falcon’s head. The “Eye of Horus,” symbolizing protection and healing, became a ubiquitous amulet in Egypt. Pharaohs, seen as living incarnations of Horus, aligned themselves with his divine authority and protection. Through this association, Horus not only governed the cosmos but also the earthly realm, reaffirming the divine right of kings.
Although primarily a sky god, Horus played a role in the afterlife as well, guiding the deceased in certain texts and protecting the tombs. Image: A personified Eye of Horus offers incense to the enthroned god Osiris in a painting from the tomb of Pashedu, 13th century BC
Isis is the goddess of magic, motherhood, and protector of the dead.
Isis, one of the most venerated deities in ancient Egyptian mythology, epitomizes the ideals of motherhood, magic, and healing. As a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis, she was depicted with a throne-shaped crown or an ankh, symbolizing life.
Central to her narrative is her unwavering love for her husband Osiris. When Osiris was deceitfully killed and dismembered by his brother Seth, it was Isis’s deep knowledge of magic that enabled her to resurrect him temporarily, leading to the conception of their son, Horus.
Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of her husband, Osiris. She was also invoked for her protective and healing magic in various funerary contexts. Image: The family of Osiris. Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle,
Isis’s role extended beyond these myths. As a protective mother figure, she was invoked for healing and protection. Many sought her blessings for fertility and safe childbirth. Furthermore, her magical prowess made her a universal symbol of the transformative power of love and resilience.
Over time, Isis’s worship transcended Egypt, with temples dedicated to her appearing across the Roman Empire. This enduring reverence underscores her significance and the multifaceted aspects of womanhood, power, and devotion she embodied.
READ MORE: The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys
Ancient Egyptian God Geb
Geb was the ancient Egyptian god of the earth and part of the Ennead of Heliopolis, a group of nine deities. Representing the Earth, he was often depicted lying beneath the sky goddess, Nut, his sister and consort.
Additionally, Geb was associated with snakes, often considered their father in mythology. Central to Egyptian cosmology, it was said that his laughter caused earthquakes. Moreover, as the deity governing the earth, he played a vital role in agriculture, blessing the land so crops could flourish. His influence was thus deeply rooted in both natural occurrences and daily Egyptian life.
Aker’s role in the Egyptian pantheon was to serve as a guardian of the horizon where the dead entered the underworld.
Aker, often depicted as two back-to-back lions named Sef and Duau, symbolizes the transition between yesterday and tomorrow. This ancient Egyptian deity was primarily recognized as the guardian of the underworld’s horizons, representing the juncture between the living and the deceased.
It was also believed that Aker played a critical protective role for the sun god Ra, defending him from chaotic entities, notably the serpent Apep, during his nightly journey through the underworld. His representation as a dual lion emphasized his role in governing transitions and boundaries.
While he lacked dedicated temples, Aker’s imagery was pivotal in funerary rites, believed to shield the dead in their afterlife journey. His double-lion symbol left an indelible mark on subsequent mythologies, influencing symbols like the “Gates of Hercules” in Greek tales. In essence, Aker personified boundaries and protection in ancient Egyptian beliefs.
The above deities, along with numerous others, depicted the intricate beliefs of the ancient Egyptians about death and the afterlife. The Duat was not merely a place of darkness and inactivity; it was a realm of transformation, challenges, and eventual rebirth into the Field of Reeds, a paradisiacal version of the earthly realm where the righteous dead would spend eternity.
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