Sunday, September 18, 2016
Lesser Known Gods Of Ancient Egypt
Egyptian mythology has a lot of gods. Some of them have loomed large in pop culture and the public imagination: Ra, Apophis, Anubis, Isis, Bast, Osiris, etc. However, some are far more obscure but that in no way diminishes how scary they are. Here are 10 absolutely terrifying Egyptian gods of whom you probably have not have heard.
Mafdet was an early goddess, usually depicted as a cat, who represented protection from venomous animals and justice/execution. When she wasn't a cat, she was a woman with a cat head. And a headdress of scorpion tales or snakes.
She was very much tied to execution and seeing her wasn't always because she was ridding you of a dangerous snake. One of her depictions was as a cat running up an executioner's staff. If you were unlucky enough to be an enemy of the pharaoh, you could be decapitated in the afterlife by using "Mafdet's Claw."
She was also the goddess that resulted from the Egyptians noticing that cats would drop dead animals at people's feet. Which the Egyptians reasoned meant that there was a cat goddess who did something similar. In Mafdet's case, she deposited the hearts of evildoers at the feet of the pharaoh, hearts that she had ripped out herself.
"Ammit, Devourer of the Dead" is another one that you do not want to see in the afterlife. To be fair, she wasn't worshipped as much as feared. Ammit was a demon composed of the biggest animals that could eat an ancient Egyptian: lion, hippopotamus and crocodile. Head of a crocodile, front body of a lion, back body of a hippo.
In Egyptian mythology, gaining entrance to the underworld meant getting some important organs removed and put in jars. Once you died, the god Anubis weighed your heart against the feather of Ma'at, the goddess of justice and truth. If the heart was heavier than then the feather, it was "impure," and Ammit would eat it. Thus dooming you to wander as a restless spirit.
Shezmu was a lesser god of execution, slaughter, blood, and wine. "Wine?" Yes. wine, because he was known to remove the heads of wrong-doers and put them into a winepress to make a beverage with a very distinctive taste. He served the head wine to the righteous dead who probably could have done with a different drink to welcome them to the afterlife.
The "Bull of the Baboons," Babi's had two things going for him: a mighty phallus, which was used as the mast of the ferry carrying souls, and a tendency to feast on entrails. He is another underworld-associated deity and he was supposed to be either going to be very helpful to your dead self or very, very bad. On one hand, a person was supposed to invoke his name if you want to have successful sex in the afterlife. Dangerously unhinged fertility is one of his characteristics, as he's the alpha baboon with a never-flagging erection. On the other hand, he lives on human entrails and "murders on sight."
She was a goddess with the head of a wasp and the body of a hippo, just to make clear how at odds she was with the world. Very little information about her survives except that she was spiteful.
Satet had two sides, just like the Nile flood she embodied. She was known as a fertility goddess and offered jars of purifying water. But, she was usually depicted as carrying a bow and arrows. Because, along with fertility, her domain was the world of hunting and war. She guarded Egypt's southern frontier by shooting the pharaoh's enemies full of arrows.
Another cat goddess, Menhit was a war goddess, with the requisite aggression and murderous tendencies. Lion-headed goddesses are dangerous. She was often depicted as the wife of other war gods like Menthu and Anhur in some stories making them a couple to avoid getting angry. Her name could mean "the slaughterer", "the one who sacrifices", or "she who massacres." It doesn't really matter which one of those is the most accurate.
Son of the very famous Bast and Ra (or sometimes Ptah instead), Maahes was a god associated with war and weather, two things that could go very wrong. He added to those big things a smaller connection to lotuses, knives and devouring captives. Vengeance against enemies is a major feature in the most terrifying of Egyptian gods.
Either a lion or a caracal, Pakhet was a regional cat goddess. She was associated with hunting, and spent her nights wandering the desert looking for prey. Do not run into anything given the name "Night huntress with sharp eye and pointed claw" in the dark. It will end very poorly. Her night wanderings also gave the goddess an association with desert storms, an extra but of terrifying on top of the idea of a giant cat goddess searching for prey in the dark.
The Egyptian underworld was a terrifying place. In addition to Ammit and Babi, you could also encounter Am-heh. A man with the head of a vicious hunting dog, Am-heh compounds that terrifying image by living on a lake of fire. His name meant "devourer of millions" and he could only be controlled by Atum, father of the gods. No other god could stop him from eating a person.