This section deals with the topic of the Egyptian religion.

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Temple at Tentyra
Temple at Tentyra

Gods of Nature.—In various periods of the history certain deities appear as deifications of the powers of nature: Ra, the sun, the ruler of the world, having his sanctuary at Heliopolis, was even in prehistoric times conceived as a person; Horus, the bringer of light, is represented in conflict with Seth, the god of darkness ; Ra-Harmachis was the rising sun, Ra-Tum the sun at evenings Thoth was also worshiped as the moon.

The number of mythological beings, such as Nun the original ocean, out of which Ra proceeded, is beyond number. Mat, the goddess of truth, represents a large class which symbolized abstract notions. Deities are also portrayed in pairs, such as Qeb, god of earth, and Nut, goddess of heaven, Shu and Tefnut, Osiris and Isis, Set-Typhon and Nephthys. In these pairs is seen also the family relation which is carried out in numerous ways, not without great confusion. Hathor, Isis, Nephthys, and Nut were daughters of Ra. Horus and Seth were sons of Isis. Tum was begotten of Nu, the water-goddess. Imhotep (Greek, Esculapius), the Egyptian god of medicine, was son of Sechmet, who was skilled in the same knowledge. Combinations are very frequent in the later periods, though that of Ra-Tum is most ancient. Ra-Harmachis has been mentioned, Hor-Nub was the "golden Horus" representing the rising sun. Amon-Ra, Ptah-Sokar-Osiris are further examples. Triads, consisting of father, mother, and son, were numerous: such as Amon, Mut, and Khonsu (or Chonsu), of Thebes; Ptah, Sechmet, and Imhotep, of Memphis; Sebek, Hathor, and Khonsu (or Chonsu), of Ombos. The ennead was theoretically a triple triad, though frequently the number fell short, in which case it was regarded simply as a divine court patterned after that of Pharaoh. As symbols of deities two may be mentioned, the obelisk of Ra and Horus, and the scarab of the abstract deity, Kheper. For particulars concerning these deities, see separate articles.

Future Life.—Much of the religion has its explanation only in connection with the future life. (See METEMPSYCHOSIS.) When the soul or "double" (see KA) left the body, the latter was preserved with extreme care (see Mummy) and deposited in a secure tomb (see MASTABA), for the personal existence of the disembodied spirit depended upon the absolute preservation of the mummy. The future of the individual was determined by a judgment which is represented as a weighing of the heart by Horus, who counterbalances it with the symbol of the truth. Mat, the god of truth, watches the operation, and Thoth, scribe of the gods, registers the result. The Hall of Justice and the forty-two "assessors" play also an important part, though the whole is too complicated to be rehearsed here. See RITUAL OF THE DEAD.

Mythology.—In the earliest periods specific beliefs as to their nature, qualities, and powers, clustered about the individual deities, but these did not become a true mythology till the amalgamation of variant views under the influence of the national union of the nomoi. The confusion which resulted would naturally lead to attempts at harmony, and thence grew up myths whose office was reconciliation. But, as intimated above, little is known of the mass of this mythology. Its extent must have been great if one may judge by the allusions, such as "Isis in the marsh" and "Horus, avenger of his father," which abound in every religious text. A study and compilation of the entire material is an essential to a scientific study of the religion, but as yet no collection has been completed. The myths that are best known are the account of the destruction of mankind, the myth of Horu, the myth of Isis and Osiris and of the conflict of Horus and Set as preserved by Plutarch.

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