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January 13, 2019 3 min read

Ra is one of the most important gods in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the noon sun. In art Ra was represented as a man with the head of a falcon and a solar disk on top, with a coiled serpent around the disk. Sometimes he is shown as a man with the head of a beetle (in his form as Khepri), or a man with the head of a ram.

Some Egyptians, especially at Heliopolis, believed all life was created by Ra, who brought each into existence by speaking their secret names. These followers believed Ra was self-created, whilst followers of Ptah believed Ptah created Ra. Humans were created from Ra's tears and sweat, which is why the Egyptians titled themselves the "Cattle of Ra". The sun disk was called the eye of Ra. Some considered Ra as the father of Shu and Tefnut. Sekhmet was the Eye of Ra (the sun disk) created by the fire in Ra's eye, a violent lioness who slaughtered those who betrayed Ra. Later Sekhmet was transformed into the more peaceful goddess Hathor.

Ra travelled through the sky on various vessels including the Atet through the Duat (the underworld) at night, two solar barges (the Mandjet) at morning and the Mesektet during the evening boat. Ra’s appearance changed, on the Mesektet, he was in his ram-headed form. On his boats, he was accompanied by various deities including Sia (perception), Hu (command) and Heka (magic power).

Apep (also known as Apophis), the god of chaos, an enormous serpent (born from Ra’s umbilical cord), tries to stop the Atet's journey every night by consuming it or by stopping it with a hypnotic stare. Set sometimes accompanied Ra and helped defeat Apep. Apep demonstrates that Egyptians considered evil to be the result of free will rather than a primordial force of nature.  

Ra's identity was often combined with other gods, forming a connection between various deities: -

  • Amun and Amun-Ra - Amun was a member of the Ogdoad (in Thebes), representing creation energies. Since he created via breath he was identified with the wind rather than the sun. Eventually they were combined to create Amun-Ra, a solar creator god.
  • Atum and Atum-Ra – Atum (in Heliopolis) was more closely linked with sun than Amun, and was a creator god of the Ennead. Both Ra and Atum were regarded as the father of the deities and pharaohs. Both were widely worshiped and in older myths, Atum was the creator of Tefnut and Shu.
  • Ra-Horakhty – is more of a title that links Horakhty (the sunrise aspect of Horus) to Ra. Ra-Horakhty refers to the sun's journey from horizon to horizon, showing Ra as a symbolic deity of hope and rebirth.
  • Khepri and Khnum - Khepri is a scarab beetle who rolls up the sun at dawn and was seen as the morning manifestation of Ra. The ram-headed god Khnum was seen as the sunset manifestation of Ra. The idea of different deities or aspects of Ra ruling over different times of the day was common, but varied. With Khepri and Khnum seen as deities of sunrise and sunset, Ra represented the noon sun.
  • Osiris - in the Duat, Ra merged with Osiris and also became god of the dead. 


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