The gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt were an integral part of the people’s everyday lives. It is not surprising then that there were over 2,000 deities in the Egyptian pantheon. Some of these deities’ names are well known: Isis, Osiris, Horus, Amun, Ra, Hathor, Bastet, Thoth, Anubis, and Ptah while many others less so. The more famous gods became state deities while others were associated with a specific region or, in some cases, a ritual or role. The goddess Qebhet, for example, is a little known deity who offered cool water to the souls of the dead as they awaited judgment in the afterlife, and Seshat was the goddess of written words and specific measurements overshadowed by Thoth, the better known god of writing and patron of scribes.
Ancient Egyptian culture grew out of an understanding of these deities and the vital role they played in the immortal journey of every human being. Historian Margaret Bunson writes: “The numerous gods of Egypt were the focal points of the nation’s cultic rites and personal religious practices. They also played a part in the great mortuary rituals and in the Egyptian belief in posthumous eternal bliss (98).”
The gods evolved from an animistic belief system to one which was highly anthropomorphic and imbued with magic. Heka was the god of magic and medicine but was also the primordial force, pre-dating all the other gods, who enabled the act of creation and sustained both mortal and divine life. The central value of the Egyptian culture was ma’at – harmony and balance – represented by the goddess of the same name and her white ostrich feather, and it was Heka who empowered Ma’at just as he did all the other deities. Heka was the manifestation of heka (magic) which should be understood to be natural laws which today would be considered supernatural but, to the Egyptians, were simply how the world and the universe functioned. The gods provided people with all good gifts but it was heka which allowed them to do so.
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