Through study of ancient Egyptian artifacts and excavations, archaeologists agree that religion figured prominently in the culture. It featured an array of gods and goddesses throughout the different Egyptian dynasties. Records of creation mythology help historians give shape to Egyptian beliefs about the birthplace of the gods and the condition of the world upon their creation.
Chaos Before the Gods
Ancient Egyptians believed that before the world's creation, only chaos existed in the form of a dark, directionless mass of water. The water was known as Nun, and ruled by eight animal gods of chaos referred to collectively as the Ogdoad. These gods consisting of four frog gods and four snake goddesses, and each male and female pair represented primal Egyptian concepts such as air, water, eternity and darkness.
Emergence of the First God
There are several creation myths that offer differing accounts of the birthplace of the gods. One detail spanning several traditions is that the first god came from the very first land, typically depicted as a mound of earth called Benben which rose out of the chaos of water. Historians posit that this mound rising from the water is symbolic of the rich dark soil left behind after the Nile River's seasonal flood cycle. Other creation myths describe a cosmic egg on the dry ground, sometimes laid by a goose or heron, from which the first god hatched. Yet another myth depicts a lotus flower emerging from the water, the petals blooming to reveal the first god.
The name of the first god to stand upon Benben, shape the universe and bring forth the other gods varies according to regions and Egyptian cults dedicated to specific deities. The sun god Ra is most commonly connected to this tradition, and is also known as Amen-Ra or Atum. The deities Shu and Tefnut were spit from Ra's mouth, and represent air and moisture. Another tradition holds that Thoth, a god of wisdom, came forth from Nun and used a song to persuade the eight gods of chaos to keep the sun moving through the sky.
Relevance to Egyptian Religion
Creation mythology held a lasting influence on the culture because Egyptian religion placed a great deal of significance on belief in the afterlife. Earlier temples in the Egyptian north often incorporated a mound of earth into their bases. Historians believe this inclusion of a Benben-like feature later influenced Egyptian pyramid design, as the primeval mound symbolized emerging life and served as an ultimate expression of an entombed king's new journey in the next world.
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