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Animals and the Gods of Ancient Egypt

By Caroline Seawright

Egyptian towns usually had their own local sacred animal. It was thought that some gods and goddesses represented themselves on earth in the form of a single representative of a specific species, and honoring that species of animal would please the god or goddess associated with the animal. The animal believed to be the incarnation of the god or goddess lived a pampered life in and near the temples and religious centers.

Baboon y`n - The dog-headed baboon was one of the manifestations of both Thoth, god of writing, and Khonsu, the youthful moon god. Both deities were related to the moon. Hapy, the son of Horus who guarded the canopic jars that held the lungs, had the head of a baboon. There was also a baboon god in the Early Dynastic period named Hedjwer, 'The Great White One', who became closely linked with Thoth. Sometimes Thoth was shown in baboon form, perched on top of the scales of judgement in the underworld.

Cat myw - Many deities were depicted as cats, both domestic or wild, and so they were seen as benevolent, sacred animals. Bast, originally a desert cat, was later depicted as a domestic cat. Ra was shown as 'The Great Cat of Heliopolis' who defeated Apep in 'The Book of the Dead'.

Cattle mnmnt - Hathor, Isis, Nut and Bat were three goddesses who were often depicted as cows, with the horns of cows or with the ears of cows. Because of this, and because of the relationship of the pharaoh as a living god, the cow came to symbolize the mother of the pharaoh. The cow was also a solar icon, where Nut carried the sun across the sky on her back, when she was in cow form. The cow was linked to female fertility and to the mother of the pharaoh. Osiris was related to the bull - the Apis bull, after death, became Osiris-Apis. While it was still alive, the Apis bull was seen as the Ba of Ptah, mummified god of creation. The Mnevis bull was regarded as the Ba of Ra-Atum. The bull, therefor, was linked to masculinity and the pharaoh.

Cobra djt - The cobra was sacred to Wadjet, the cobra goddess of Buto, who represented Lower Egypt and kingship. The cobra goddess Renenet was a fertility goddess who was sometimes depicted as nursing children and as protector of pharaoh. Another cobra goddess was Meretseger, 'she who loves silence', who could punish criminals with blindness or her venom.

Crocodile msh - Ammut, the demoness at the judgement hall, had the head of a crocodile along with other fearful creatures, and was known as 'the devourer of the dead' who punished evildoers by eating their hearts. The god of the Athribis region, the solar god Horus KhentyKhenty, was sometimes shown as a crocodile. But the crocodile was also sacred to Sobek, who was portrayed as a human with the head of a crocodile, or as the crocodile itself. The temples of Sobek usually had sacred lakes where crocodiles were fed and cared for. The hippo goddess of childbirth, Taweret, was thought to have the back and tail of a crocodile, or was shown with a crocodile perched on her back.

Falcon / Hawk byk - The sacred bird of the falcon-headed solar god Horus, it was also regarded as his Ba. The falcon was a bird that had protective powers, and was frequently linked with royalty, where it was depicted as hovering over the head of the pharaoh, with outstretched wings. The falcon was also sacred to Montu, god of war, and Sokar, god of the Memphite necropolis. The bird of prey was sometimes associated with Hathor, 'The House of Horus'. The son of Horus, Qebehsenuef who guarded the canopic jar of the intestines, was a falcon-headed god. The human headed ba-bird was sometimes given the body of a falcon.

Frog qrr - The frog goddess Heqet was often shown as a frog-headed woman or as a frog. Because the Egyptians saw that there were many frogs, all appearing from the Nile, they associated the frog with fertility and resurrection, and so Heqet was a goddess of childbirth. The four male primeval gods of the Ogdoad - Nun (water), Amen (invisibility), Heh (infinity) and Kek (darkness) were all frog gods.

Goose gb - The goose was the sacred animal of Geb, who was also known as 'The Great Cackler' when he was in goose form, and had the sign of the goose as his headdress. Isis was sometimes described as 'the egg of the goose', being the daughter of Geb.

Heron bnw - The bnw-bird was represented as a heron, and was thought to be the original phoenix - it was a bird of the sun and rebirth, the sacred bird of Heliopolis, closely linked to the primeval mound. It was also thought to be the Ba of both Ra and Osiris.

Hippopotamus db - Set was thought to have turned into a hippopotamus during his fight with Horus, where he was harpooned by the falcon god. The male hippopotamus was Set's animal, and an evil animal. Ammut, the female demon who ate the soul of the dead if they failed judgement against Ma'at, had the rear end of a hippopotamus, and was combined with the body parts of other fearsome Egyptian creatures. The female hippopotamus, on the other hand, was the manifestation of Taweret, the benevolent hippo goddess of fertility and childbirth. She was one of the most popular goddesses of the household, particularly among expectant mothers because of her protective powers.

Ibis hb - Regarded as the reincarnation of Thoth, the sacred ibis was sacred to the god of knowledge, who had the form of an ibis-headed man. The Akhu, part of the soul, was written with the sign of a crested ibis, known as the Akhu-bird.

Jackal sab - Associated with Anubis, the god of embalming and mummification, who was depicted as a black colored jackal (or dog) or a man with the head of a black jackal or dog. One of the four sons of Horus, Duamutef, was a jackal headed god who guarded the canopic jar that held the stomach. The other jackal god was Wepwawet, the Opener of the Ways, who performed the Opening of the Mouth ceremony on the pharaoh so he would be able to speak in the afterlife. There was also a jackal god named Sed (after whom the 'sed festival' or royal jubilee' was named) who was

closely linked to Wepwawet. The jackal was thought to be a guide to the newly dead because they were often seen around the desert and mountains where the tombs were usually built.

Lions may - The lion was connected with the rising and the setting of the sun, and so were thought to be guardians of the horizon and were linked to solar deities. The earth god Aker was shown in the form of a 'double sphinx' - two lions seated back to back - and was thought to guard the sun as it entered and exited the underworld at the eastern and western horizons. Shu, god of dry air, and Tefnut, goddess of moist air, were lion-headed and lioness-headed deities respectively. Tefnut was given the title, the Eye of Ra. Many pharaohs associated themselves with lions, and so the lion came to symbolize rulership. Lions were also linked with ferocity and war-like deities. Sekhmet was either shown as a lioness, or a lioness-headed woman who came into being as the Eye of Ra to destroy mankind for Ra, who was also known for her healing powers. Hathor, goddess of love, was thought to have been sent out as the Eye of Ra, and so was also linked to lionesses. Even the cobra goddess, Wadjet, had a lioness form when she was identified as the Eye of Ra. Mut, too, had a lioness form when she was showing her more war-like side. The son of Bast or Sekhmet (there was confusion over the motherhood of this god in ancient times), Nefertem, was a lion-headed sun god of the lotus, healing and perfume. Another lion god was Apedemak who was known as 'the splendid god at the head of Nubia, lion of the south, strong of arm'. Bes, dwarf god of sexuality and childbirth, was shown with either the ears and mane of a lion or as wearing a lion-skin cape.

Ostrich nyw - Ma'at, the personification of order, was shown as a seated woman wearing an ostrich feather as her headdress or as the feather itself.

Pig rry - The pig was an animal sacred to Set, god of chaos. Set took the form of a pig and blinded Horus then disappeared. Eventually Horus regained his sight. The eyes of Horus was thought to represent the sun and the moon, and the legend of the blinding of the god was an explanation of solar and lunar eclipses. Plutarch says that, once a year, pigs were sacrificed to the moon.

Ram Ba - The ram was sacred to Banebdjedet, ram-god of Mendes, and Khnum the god who created men on his pottery wheel. Amun also had a ram form, though this was a different species of sheep. Rams were a symbol of fertility, and as such, the fertility god Heryshef took the form of a ram or a ram-headed man.

Scarab Beetle khprr - The personification of the scarab god Khepri, a solar god of resurrection. As the scarab pushes its dung behind it in a ball, so the Egyptians thought that Khepri pushed the sun across the sky. Young scarabs emerged, born out of the dung, and so the scarab also came to symbolize new life and creation. The scarab was also linked to Amen, as was Khepri himself.

Scorpion srq - Serqet was a scorpion goddess and was usually depicted with a scorpion on her head and featured in spells to both avoid and cure venomous bites. Shed, a god known as 'the savior', was linked with the scorpion and gave protection against its sting. Tabitjet was another scorpion goddess, relating to the bleeding caused by the loss of virginity. The scorpion was sacred to Isis, who was thought to have been protected by scorpions while Horus was young.

Snake djdft - The snake had mixed popularity in Egypt because snakes caused the danger and the cure to the venom. Apep was a snake-demon of the underworld, who tried to stop Ra on his nightly journey through the land of the west. The four primeval goddesses of the Ogdoad Naunet (water), Amaunet (invisibility), Hauhet (infinity) and Kauket (darkness) - were also snake goddesses. There was a snake god called Nehebkaw who was depicted as a man with the head and tail of a snake.

Turtle shtyw - The turtle was associated with Set, and so with the enemies of Ra who tried to stop the solar barque as it traveled through the underworld. This was because the turtle was associated with night, and so came to symbolize darkness and evil.

Vulture nrt - sacred to Nekhbet, goddess of Upper Egypt and Mut, mother goddess. The vulture often holds the shn symbol of eternity in its talons, offering eternal protection to the pharaoh. As such, the vulture is closely linked to rulership.

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Symbols and Definitions

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This symbol represents the horizon from which the sun emerged and disappeared. The horizon thus em and sunset. It is similar to the two peaks of the Djew or mountain symbol with solar disk in the center each day was guarded by Aker, a double lion god. In the New Kingdom, Harmakhet ("Horus in the Ho rising and setting sun. He was pictured as a falcon, or as a sphinx with the body of a lion. The Great S "Horus in the Horizon".


This symbol represents the Underworld or Land of the Dead. Originally it meant the horizon of the su of the west bank of the Nile, where the sun set and also where the Egyptians traditionally buried their


Symbol of eternal life. The gods are often seen holding an ankh to someone's lips this is considered to Life". The breath you will need in the afterlife.


The atef crown was worn by Osiris. It is made up of the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red feath Osiris's cult center in the Delta.


The Ba is what we might call someones personality. It would leave the body at the time of death. Duri itself useful, at night it would return to the tomb. At this time, it would look for the person to which it mummy, however, often the egyptians would supply the Ba with a statue in the likeness of the deceas damaged.

Canopic Jars

During mummification the internal organs were removed and placed in four containers human or animal-headed stoppers. The word, canopic, comes from the Greek name of Nile delta, who was represented as a human-headed pot. Canopic jars can be made of l or even cartonnage. The heads of the canopic jar represented the Four Sons of Horus . . . . .From left to right they are;

Imsety: The human headed guardian of the liver

Qebekh-sennuef: The falcon headed guardian of the intestines.

Hapy: The baboon headed guardian of the lungs

Duamutef: The jackal or wild dog headed guardian of the stomach.

The Red Crown. This was the crown that represented Lower Egypt (northern).


It is believed that the Djed is a rendering of a human backbone. It represents stability and strength. It was orig god Ptah. Himself being called the "Noble Djed". As the Osiris cults took hold it became known as the backb often painted on the bottom of coffins, where the backbone of the deceased would lay, this identified the pers underworld, Osiris. It also acts as a sign of stability for the deceased' journey into the afterlife.


Which means mountain, the symbol suggests two peaks with the Nile valley in the middle. The Egypt cosmic mountain range that held up the heavens. This mountain range had two peaks, the western pea eastern peak was called Bakhu. It was on these peaks that heaven rested. Each peak of this mountain c who's job it was to protect the sun as it rose and set. The mountain was also a symbol of the tomb and most Egyptian tombs were located in the mountainous land bordering the Nile valley. In some texts w tomb being referred to as "He who is upon his mountain." Sometimes we find Hathor takeing on the a at this time she is called "Mistress of the Necropolis." She is rendered as the head of a cow protruding

Feather of Maat
Represents truth, justice, morality and balance. It was pharaoh's job to uphold Maat. When a pharaoh was flung into chaos, only the coronation of a new pharaoh could restore Maat.

Fetish of Osiris
An animal skin hanging from a stick, this is a symbol of Osiris and Anubis.

Flail and Crook

A symbol of royalty, majesty and dominion.


The heb glyph represents an alabaster bowl. These bowls were used for special purposes like festivals or feas


The Heb-Sed glyph Is a combination of the heb glyph and the sed glyph. It represents the Heb-Sed or Jubile was celebrated on the 30th year of a pharoah's rule. It was believed to renew the pharaohs strength of rule ov

The White Crown. This was the crown of Upper Egypt (southern).


This symbol represents a heart. The Egyptian believed the heart was the center of all consciousness, When someone died it was said that their "heart has departed." It was the only organ that was not rem mummification. In the Book of the dead, it was the heart that was weighed against the feather of Maat of joining Osiris in the afterlife.


These symbols represent the west or western desert AKA the land of the dead. The horizon on which R underworld.


The ka is usually translated as "soul" or "spirit" The ka came into existence when an individual was headed god Khnum crafted the ka on his potter's wheel at a persons birth. It was thought that when so persons ka would live on after their body had died. Some tombs included model houses as the ka need food and drink would be left at the tomb entrance so the ka could eat and drink.

The blue crown was a ceremonial crown often worn in battle.


This symbol represents a lamp or brazier on a stand from which a flame emerges. Fire was embodied the uraeus which spit fire. Fire also plays a part in the Egyptian concept of the underworld. There is on underworld which is similar to the christians concept of hell. Most egyptians would like to avoid this p that are inhabited by fire demons.


Represents truth, justice, morality and balance. Deities are often seen standing on this symbol, as if standing o


This symbol represents a heavy beaded necklace with a crescent shaped front and a counter piece at th with the goddess Hathor and her son, Ihy. In fact , Hathor was known as the "Great Menat". We often

conduit through which she passes her power. It was representative of the ideas of joy, life, potency, fe uncommon in the New Kingdom, to see the king offering the Menat to Hathor. This probably meant to with the goddess' son, Ihy. This idea of divine assimilation was common, although the best examples falcon god, Horus.


A scribes pallet. Writing was a very important skill to the ancient Egyptians. It was practiced by a gro equipment used by scribes consisted of a palette, which held black and red pigments, a water jar, and a favorable position, even some kings and nobles are show proudly displaying scribe palettes.


Shrine in which divine statues were kept, especially in temple sanctuaries. A small wooden naos was n monolithic one in hard stone; the latter are typical of the Late Period, and sometimes elaborately deco temple sanctuary.


This symbol represents gold which was considered a divine metal, it was thought to be the flesh of the related to the brilliance of the sun. Gold was important to the afterlife as it represents aspects of immo royal burial chamber was called the "House of Gold."


The two ladies of upper and lower Egypt. Nekhbet the vulture goddess, protrectress of Upper Egypt and Wad with lower Egypt and the Nile delta. There is a beautiful rendering of these two ladies in the White Chapel of

A goddess portrayed as a vulture. Protrectress of Upper Egypt.

A striped headcloth worn by Pharaohs.

The Gods or having to do with the gods.

Palm Branch

The Egyptians would put a notch in a palm branch to mark the passing of a year in the life of a pharao time.


This symbol depicts the sky as a ceiling which drops at the ends, the same way the real sky seems to reach fo used in architectural motifs; the top of walls, and door frames. It symbolizes the heavens.

Primordial mound

The Egyptians believed that during creation this hill rose out of the sea of chaos to create dry land. The idea o effect on the egyptians, being used as every thing from temple layouts to the possible inspiration behind the p


The Double Crown, the red crown and the white crown put together to represent a unified Egypt. Alth unified nation it was stronger that way.Therefore unification was desirable. Narmer (Menes), the foun 3100 B.C., was the first man recorded wearing this crown.


The sun was the primary element of life in ancient Egypt, we find this importance reflected in the ar popular gods had a solar connection. The sun was first worshipped as Horus, then as Ra and later as representations of the sun, including Khepri, the great scarab who symbolizes morning and the ram-he evening. During the reign ofAkhenaten, the sun was worshipped as the Aten. A form of the sun disk w holding ankh signs. Another common form that the sun takes is that of Horus Behudety, the winged su


This symbol means protection. Its origins are uncertain, but it is speculated that it represents either a r papyrus life-preserver used by ancient egyptian boaters. Either way it is clearly a symbol of protection important part in jewelry design. It is often used in conjunction with symbols, particularly the ankh, w find Taurt, the hippopotamus goddess of childbirth, resting her paw on a standing sa sign.


Called the dung beetle because of its practice of rolling a ball of dung across the ground. The Egyptian equated it with the ball of the sun being rolled across the sky. They confused this balled food source w dung beetle laid and buried in the sand. When the eggs hatched the dung beetles would seem to appea symbol of spontaneous creation. In this role it was associated with the sunrise. Khepri was the scarab

This is a representation of the pavilion used in the Heb-Sed ceremonies.

This is a symbol of authority.


This is a rendering of the lungs attached to the windpipe. As a hieroglyph this symbol represents the unif Other symbols are often added to further illustrate unification. There are many fine examples of this sym

In these renderings we see the Sema bound with two plants, the papyrus and the lo Lower Egypt and the lotus represents Upper Egypt.

In other representations we find two gods binding the Sema together using lotus an binding together of upper and lower Egypt.


A Lotus Flower. This is a symbol of the sun, of creation and rebirth. Because at night the flower close rises and opens again. According to one creation myth it was a giant lotus which first rose out of the w time. From this giant lotus the sun itself rose on the first day. A symbol of Upper Egypt


A pool of water. The Egyptians portrayed bodies of water by means of equally spaced vertical wave li by a rectangle it denotes a lake or pool. The Egyptians believed water was the primeval matter from w Egypt's desert climate depended on water, and a pool of water would be a great luxury. There are man deceased drinking from a pool in the afterlife.


A loop of rope that has no beginning and no end, it symbolized eternity. The sun disk is often depicted seems to be a symbol of protection. It is often seen being clutched by deities in bird form, Horus the fa over Pharaohs head with their wings outstretched in a gesture of protection. The word shen comes fro "encircle," and in its elongated form became the cartouche which surrounded the king's name.


More commonly know as a cartouche. The shape represents a loop of rope in which a name is written alsoshen.


The sistrum was a sacred percussion instrument used in the cult of Hathor. The sistrum consisted of a loose strips of metal and disks which jingled when moved. This noise was thought to attract the attent types of sistrum, an iba, was shaped in a simple loop, like a closed horse-shoe with loose cross bars of long handle. The seseshet had the shape of a naos temple above a Hathor head, with ornamental loops

the box of the naos. They were usually carried by women of high rank.


This bird is called the Lapwing, it is identified by its head crest, Its wings are pined back preventing it a group of people. It is often seen below the feet of a ruler to signify that the people are subjects of tha

In the New Kingdom, the symbol develops human arms which are held in the act of giving praise. In mean "a group of people giving praise."


The exact origin of this symbol is unknown. In many respects it resembles an ankh except that its arm reminiscent of the ankh, it is often translated to mean welfare or life. As early as the Third Dynasty w decoration when it appears with both the ankh and the djed column, and later with the was scepter. Th often called "the knot of Isis" or "the blood of Isis." It seems to be called "the knot of Isis" because it r garments that the gods wore. The meaning of "the blood of Isis" is more obscured but it was often use red stone or glass. In the Late Period the sign was associated with the goddesses Nephthys, Hathor, an these cases it seems to represent the ideas of resurrection and eternal life.

The sound eye of Horus. Symbolizes healing and protection.


The cobra is an emblem of Lower Egypt. It is associated with the king, and kingdom of Lower Egypt. and with many deities. The cobra represented the "fiery eye of Re", in which two uraei can be seen on Starting in Middle Kingdom The uraeus appears as a symbol worn on the crown or headdress of royal symbol, the Egyptians believed that the cobra would spit fire at any approaching enemies.


Literally translated it means "to answer." It is a small mummiform figure placed in tombs to do work deceased. In some tombs of the late New Kingdom whole gangs of ushabti workers were included wit different work. A complete collection would consist of 401 Ushabti: one for each day of the year, 365


This is a symbol of power and dominion. The Was scepter is carried by deities as a sign of their powe kings and later by people of lesser stature in mortuary scenes

Winged Solar Disk

This is a form that the god Horus Behudety (Horus of Edfu) takes in his battles with Seth. The god Th into a sun-disk with splendid outstretched wings. The goddesses Nekhbet and Uazet in the form of ura