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Re

by Micha F. Lindemans
The most important of the Egyptian gods, the personification of the (midday) sun. According to the Heliopolitan cosmology he created himself from a mound that arose from the primeval waters of Nun or out of a primordial lotus flower. He then created Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture), who in turn engendered the earth-god Geb and the sky-goddess Nut. Re was said to have created humankind from his own tears and the gods Hu and Sia from blood drawn from his own penis.

The sun itself was taken to be either his body or his eye (the 'Eye of Re'). The center of his cult was from the very beginning in Heliopolis, where he was also venerated in the forms of Atum (the setting sun) and Khepri (the rising sun) and, in connection to the morning sun, as Re-Harachte. As Re-Atum he is the creator who gives light and warmth and thus growth. Re was often combined with other deities to enhance the prestige of the latter, as in Re-Atum or Amun-Re.

It was said that Re traveled each day in his solar barque through the sky, starting in the morning. At night, Re journeyed through the underworld in another barque. And each night, the monster Apep would try to prevent the sun-god from emerging again: the eternal battle between light and darkness. The gods Seth and Mehen accompanied him and were often depicted defending Re's barque. Others believed that Re could be found at night in the underworld, consoling and giving support to the dead. Re is also the god of the pharaohs and since the fourth dynasty the Egyptian kings styled themselves 'sons of Re'. After death, the monarch was said to ascend into the sky to join the entourage of Re.

In Heliopolis the Benu or Phoenix (sacred heron) and the oracular Mnevis (bull) were venerated as manifestations of the sun-god. Here the kings also built temples for Re, which were important institutions in the field of ideology. Re was usually portrayed as a man with the head of a falcon, crowned with the sun disc encircled by the uraeus.

The name of Ra in hieroglyphs
The name of Ra in hieroglyphs.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Ra

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