One of the most powerful gods from the ancient legends, God Ra, is an ancient Egyptian deity of the sun. During the Fifth Dynasty, Ra became one of the most important gods in Egyptian culture. People identified him with the noon-day sun. According to tales, Ra ruled all parts of the created world: the Earth, the sky and the underworld. Ra was the supreme god of the sun, kings, order and the sky.
Moreover, people believed that Ra created all forms of life. Some accounts even say that Ra created humans themselves from the tears and sweat of the god. Hence, the Egyptians called themselves the “Cattle of Ra”.
Symbolism and Iconography
The most common depiction of Ra was of a man with the head of a falcon and a solar disk on top. Additionally, a coiled serpent sat around the disk. Other forms include a man with the head of a beetle (Khepri form) or a man with the head of a ram. Imagery also depicts Ra as a full-bodied ram, heron, serpent, cat, lion, beetle, phoenix etc.
The underworld depicted Ra with a ram head commonly. This form refers to Ra as the “Ram of the West” or “Ram in charge of his harem”. Moreover, some texts describe Ra as an ageing king with bones made of silver, flesh of goals and hair of lapis lazuli ( a deep blue semi-precious stone).
Additionally, a falcon portrays the god. This shares characters with the sky-god Horus. Sometimes people merged the two gods as Ra-Horakthy. In fact, in the New Kingdom, the god Amun was fused with Ra to create Amun-Ra.
The Mythology of the sun Ra
The ominous presence of Ra comes from his representation as the creator of the universe or giver of life. Ra represented warmth, life and growth. These features led people to worship Ra as the King of Gods. The worship of Ra grew wildly across ancient Egypt. In turn, it led to several representations of the god. Some of his most common combinations included Atum (human form), Khepri ( beetle form) and Horus (falcon form).
Several tales commonly represent Ra as a man with a falcon head. On top of his head sits a solar disc and a coiled cobra that represents the eye of Ra. At the beginning of time, the deity Atum decided to start creating and hence Ra was born. Initially, Ra created the first gods out of himself. Shu (air), Tefnut (humidity), along Ra completed the cosmos by creating Geb (Earth) and Nut (sky).
According to other myths, Ra pulled out the sun from the waters of Nun. Furthermore, the extensions of Ra’s powers were called the Eye of Ra. The god has three daughters Bastet, Sekhmet and Hathor. Ra sent his daughters to seek vengeance. Moreover, the goddess Sekhmet was the Eye of Ra, created by the raging fire in Ra’s eye. In contrast, people believed that the goddess Hathor was benevolent and kind. Legends say that Sekhmet was a fierce warrior who protected the sun god, and Bastet was kind and nurturing.
The Legend of Ra and The Underworld
According to ancient mythology, Ra was responsible for bringing light to the entire world. To do so, the god travelled through the sky on his boat Atet. As the sun went down, the god travelled into the underworld, where he had to go through the 12 gates.
During this journey, other deities like Sia, Hu, Heka and members of Ennead accompanied the god. These myths of Ra travelling the underworld to come out every morning represented the cycle of rebirth and renewal. Further, it strengthened the role of Ra.
Moreover, the tales of the god Set defending Ra in the underworld are mentioned throughout history. In fact, after accepting defeat from Horus in the battle of the throne, Set was tasked with protecting the sun god on every nightly journey.
Subsequently, he defeated Apophis several times. Apophis, the god of chaos, was an enormous serpent trying to prevent the sun god’s boat from travelling across the underworld. Every night Apophis would try to consume the ship or stop it through a hypnotic stare.
Once Apophis swallowed the boat of Ra. However, the serpent was not strong enough to hold the god and had to regurgitate him. According to the legends, this incident gave rise to the solar eclipse. When Ra was in the underworld, he would often visit god Osiris, the lord of the underworld, to pay his respects.
Ra and Sekhmet
Another famous legend recounts the story of how Ra grew old with time. Angered by the betrayal of humans, the god decided to kill all the humans on Earth. To carry out this task, the god sent Sekhmet as the Eye of Ra. He transformed Sekhmet into a fierce lion. It allowed humans to plot against him and cause a rebellion.
Subsequently, the goddess went on a rampage. She was overcome with blood lust and began to slaughter humans, delighted to fuel her feeding. Finally, the other gods were horrified by the carnage and begged Ra to stop Sekhmet. So the sun god tricked Sekhmet into drinking tons of beer and brought her back to the sky. After halting the massacre, the sun god refused to live between humans and decided to leave the Earth.
Leaving the earth led to a journey to the underworld. Ra took twelve hours of the day by sailing across the sky from east to the west in this journey. When Ra reached the west, he would leave the Earth to enter the otherworld and create the 12 hours of the night. Here in the underworld, he would destroy the enemies of the creation and regenerate himself.
The legends from ancient Egypt portray Ra as the most magnificent god to grace the Earth. The power and reverence that Ra held were unparalleled. Several powerful pharaohs like Ramsses took the god’s name to portray strength. Kings dedicated temples and land to the cult of Ra throughout the country. The power of Ra was so magnificent that gods like Amun were merged with Ra later. Even today, in modern Egypt, the tales of Ra endure. Modern folklore and local expressions resurrect his stories and will continue to do so.