when animals were worshiped as gods

Existential markers of life in society

It is enough to look carefully at the hieroglyphs to see how many symbols and images of animals there were at that time. The Egyptians were surrounded by incredible wild nature, with which they cultivated an exemplary relationship of continuity (and with living things in general). People treated animals almost as equals. Why? Because, as explained Egyptologist Pascal Vernus at the microphone “Bivouac Time”, animals were considered primarily divine incarnations. They were used as mediators in rituals of worship and glorification of gods in temples and tombs. Therefore, for many, we determine the fate of the entire society through them.

Animals play a very important role in ancient Egyptian religion, and if there is one area in which this closeness to animals can be realized, it is hieroglyphic writing whose earliest written evidence dates back to 3000 BC, 150 years before the civilization of the pharaohs. This hieroglyphic writing is materialized by a figurative image of objects used in human life, plants, various objects, up to the image of animals. Each of them meant a certain meaning in the philosophy of the company. This cultural legacy is undoubtedly one that continues to guide our modern relationship with animals: we still love them passionately, and our desire to preserve the animal chain from the challenges of the current environmental crisis has evolved significantly..

As our archaeologist explains, “The peculiarity of the Pharaonic civilization is that it was surrounded by many very different biotopes, a very diversified fauna, which was given great importance. So much so that they systematically feed the imagination and religious beliefs of society. The animal world played a very important role in Egyptian symbolism, which was expressed primarily in writing, itself revealing the religious practices of Ancient Egypt.“. Here is the symbolism of some of these animals among the most revered at that time.

The hippopotamus and the crocodile: between good and evil

Like most divine personifications in ancient Egypt, the animal very often causes ambiguous conviction. The hippopotamus is initially identified with evil forces, with darkness. The archaeologist tells us that “this animal is more symbolically associated with the god of evil Set, as it is a very dangerous animal in the daily life of the Egyptians. And today in Africa, this animal is the cause of the greatest number of deaths. The males think the boat is a potential rival and they start attacking what they think is big and moving, so imagine that happening.”. On the one hand, its threatening and dangerous nature made it a very scary animal for the Egyptians, who made it one of the greatest enemies of the pharaoh.

But, on the other hand, the animal is also an embodiment the goddess Taveret. This is an animal that has the peculiarity of coming out of the water to roam the Earth from time to time. From this point of view, the Egyptians interpret it as a symbol of the creation of the world. An ambivalence that directly relates to the idea that the cosmos was created by a god who emerged from the primordial ocean (Nun) to go to Earth. A very characteristic view of Egyptian mythology, according to the Egyptologist, “as the forces of evil and the forces of good engage in a constant struggle for balance“.

Like the hippopotamus, the crocodile was present in very large numbers, covering the entire heart of the Nile. In this way, he exposed the inhabitants to numerous accidents, having the opportunity at any moment to plunge his victim into darkness, devouring him. A priori, the archaeologist explains, “it is an animal that is rather derogatory, dangerous, but again, it was considered an animal with a double meaning, since it lives both inside and outside the water, coming out of the water and joining the land (synonymous with light) as it pleasesHe also becomes the god of agricultural fertility, embodying among other things deity Sobek, control of spills of the Nile, cultivation of fields irrigated by the Nile. He cares for the protection of Oceanus, the creator of the primordial gods, from whom chaos and life originate.

Vulture and cobra: protectors of gods and pharaohs

The vulture is a symbol goddess Nehbet, a deity who symbolized the protection of the pharaoh on the same level as the cobra. Unlike us today, the Egyptologist explains, “the vulture is a positive symbol for behavioral reasons, as the vulture spreads its wings to protect its chicks from the heat and sun. The vulture became an emblem of protection. The vulture is used, for example, to denote the word “protection” in Egyptian hieroglyphs.. On the other hand, his extremely difficult flight in the sky led to his being represented as an avatar of the sun disk, and often in Egyptian depictions a vulture was shown hovering over the pharaoh as if protecting him..

Falcon: shine a light between good and evil

This particularly charismatic bird of the raptor family gave its appearance to two of the greatest protector gods of ancient Egypt: Amon-Ra, the supreme sun god of the Egyptian pantheon, the king of the Egyptian gods, the one through whom the universe of gods and men can flourish in peace as the guarantor of the balance between good and evil.. This is why the falcon god is always crowned with his sun disk to give light to the cosmos. In Rê, the falcon represents creation itself, responsible for guaranteeing light (good) and fighting darkness (evil). It is the fruit of the association between the sun, air and wind, thus embodying the invisible force, hidden but ever present, and the divine light that sustains life.

Not forgetting Hor whose falcon represents divine and royal authority, as he was considered the first divine king of pharaonic Egypt, from whom every king-pharaoh claims when he ascends the throne. It is synonymous with sovereignty and influence. It was he who had to fight against his uncle Seth to take back the throne from his father Osiris. That is why it represents legitimacy, sovereignty.

In general, in Egyptian mythology, the bird represents the divinity (Benu) of life, the soul of the king of the creator gods, Amon-Re, who constantly accompanies him in his search for a balance between light and darkness.

Cats and dogs: defenders of the household

In the imagination of the ancient Egyptians, the two most favorite animals in France were “they were treated both as pets and as defenders of everyday life”. As soon as they began to be domesticated between -2000 and -1800, they were immediately adored. They never lacked anything, and most of the time were mummified, especially cats, as part of rituals dedicated to their respective deities.

She embodies a cat the goddess Bastet, daughter of the sun god Ra, who was believed to see through his daughter’s eyes. She is often depicted sitting, a symbol of wisdom. The Egyptians revered cats for their decency, gentleness, and kindness, which was symbolized by the cat goddess as the protector of the household, fertility, good health of the home, and children.

The historian clarifies that the deity was doubly feline”since at any moment she could turn into a lioness and become the goddess of fury (Sekmet), the dangerous double of Bastet. When a lioness is appeased, she becomes a cat”.

If the early Egyptians devoted a real cult to cats, it is because they are known for their instinct as rat hunters, getting rid of any vermin that might attack the food needs of humans. They naturally preserve crops and help prevent plague pandemics caused by rats.

As for the dog, it’s pretty much the same, even if his divine representation is a bit more blurred. It is very often hung under the owner’s seat as a symbol of serenity, protection and peace. The dog is used to represent a very important Egyptian deity, Anubis, the jackal-headed god responsible for the ceremonial of the dead. “Indeed, the dog often digs up the bones, the remains of the deceased, to place them in another unsuspecting hiding place. It was made a symbol of the God responsible for mummification and reintegration of the corpse into its original form..

Go further

🎧 LISTEN AGAIN – Bivouac time : Egypt during the time of the pharaohs

🎧 SUBSCRIBE – Find all episodes of the “Le temps d’un bivouac” podcast on the Radio France website and app.

🎧 LISTEN AGAIN – The heart of history : Animals in Ancient Egypt](Animals in Ancient Egypt

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.