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The symbolic eye had an overwhelming presence in ancient Egyptian iconography. Not to be confused with the Eye of Horus, the Eye of Ra is often depicted as a stylized right eye with markings. Let’s take a look at some of the myths and legends to uncover what this symbol stood for.
History of the Eye of Ra
In ancient Egypt, the eyes of a deity were associated with divine power. The Eye of Ra is arguably as famous as the Eye of Horus so it’s not surprising that the two are often confused with one another, but they are the eyes of two different Egyptian deities, with the Eye of Horus being a left eye and the Eye of Ra being a right eye.
While Ra was believed to be the god of the sun and the beginning of all things, the Eye of Ra had anthropomorphic qualities, and was independent of Ra himself. It was actually a separate being from the sun god Ra and functions as his feminine counterpart. It’s often referred to as the “daughter of Ra”, a widely worshiped deity in ancient Egypt.
The Eye of Ra was also often associated with many of Egypt’s goddesses such as Sekhmet, Hathor, Wadjet, Bastet, and others, and was personified by them. As such, the Eye of Ra was a mother, a sibling, and even a consort in various Egyptian texts.
Sometimes, the Eye of Ra is seen as an extension of Ra’s great power. The Eye of Ra is considered to possess a violent and dangerous power that Ra could rely upon to help subjugate his enemies. It was typically thought of as a violent, destructive force linked to the heat of the sun.
The dangerous aspects of the symbol were also celebrated by ancient Egyptians, invoking the protection of the gods. In fact, the Eye of Ra was painted on pharaohs’ amulets and commonly seen on artifacts, mummies, and tombs.
In one Egyptian myth, Ra sent his eye to search for his lost children. While the eye was able to bring them back, he grew a new one in its place, which made the eye feel betrayed. To make it happy again, Ra turned the eye into a uraeus and wore it on his forehead. Therefore, the solar disk surrounded by two cobras became the other representation for the Eye of Ra.
The Eye of Ra and Goddess Wadjet
Wadjet, in particular, is connected to the Eye of Ra in more ways than one as the Eye symbol itself is comprised of two Uraeus rearing cobras – the symbols of the goddess Wadjet. The cult of Wadjet predates that of the sun god Ra. She was the patron deity of ancient Lower (northern) Egypt kingdom.
The rearing cobra Uraeus symbol was worn on the crowns of Lower Egypt’s rulers for millennia until Lower and Upper Egypt eventually united and the cult of Ra eventually replaced that of Wadjet. Still, her influence on Egypt remained.
The Eye is often equated to the symbols of a large bronze risk, representing the sun, and two Uraeus cobras on either of its sides. On many depictions, one of the cobras is wearing an Upper Egypt crown or Hedjet and the other – a Lower Egypt crown or Deshret.
Difference Between the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus
While the two are quite distinct, the Eye of Ra is a much more aggressive symbol than the Eye of Horus. In Egyptian mythology, the Eye of Horus has a legend of regeneration, healing, and divine intervention from the gods. On the contrary, the Eye of Ra is a symbol of protection rooted in fury, violence, and destruction.
Usually, the Eye of Ra is depicted as the right eye, and the Eye of Horus as the left eye, but no rule can be applied universally. According to the Hieroglyphs and Arithmetic of the Ancient Egyptian Scribes, “In many Egyptian murals and sculptures the right eye became known as the Eye of Horus… and museums all over the world contain amulets of both the left and right Eye of Horus.”
Also, the Eye of Horus belongs to a different god, Horus, and is commonly (but not always) depicted with a blue iris. On the other hand, the Eye of Ra commonly sports a red iris. Both eyes symbolize protection, but the way this protection is demonstrated separates the two.
Meaning and Symbolism of the Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra is one of the most common religious symbols in Egyptian art. Here’s the symbolism and meaning associated with it:
- Fertility and Birth – The Eye of Ra played the role of a mother and companion of Ra, therefore a depiction of procreation, fertility and birth. Its life-giving power was celebrated in temple rituals of ancient Egyptians.
- Great Power and Strength – Ancient Egyptians relied on her power, likened to the heat of the sun, which could get out of control and become very violent. In fact, the Eye of Ra’s aggressiveness extends not only to humans but also to deities, representing the destructive side of Ra.
- A Symbol of Protection – Ancient Egyptians viewed her as an overprotective mother over her people and land. Also, the Eye of Ra was regarded as the symbol of royal authority and protection, since it was painted on amulets worn by pharaohs to defend themselves against evil entities, spells, or enemies.
The Eye of Ra in Jewelry and Fashion
Many designers pay homage to the rich culture and history of Ancient Egypt with pieces full of symbolism. Though commonly worn as a lucky charm or amulet, the Eye of Ra is used today on clothing, caps, and even tattoo designs, and is now seen as something fashionable and trendy.
In jewelry design, it is often featured on hand carved wood pendants, lockets, medallions, earrings, bracelet charms, and cocktail rings, depicted with other Egyptian symbols. These can be minimalist or maximalist in style, depending on the design.
FAQ About the Eye of Ra
The image is more a symbol of protection than good luck, but some people keep it close as a good luck charm.
The Evil Eye, also called the nazar boncugu, has Turkish origins. Although it also is a protective symbol, the Evil Eye isn’t connected to any single deity or faith. It’s usage is more universal.
First, these two eyes come from two different Egyptian deities. Second, while both symbolized protection, the Eye of Horus is much more benevolent and benign than the Eye of Ra, which often symbolized protection through violence and aggression against enemies.
The Eye of Ra represents Ra, the sun god. But as we’ve discussed, the meaning goes beyond the deity Ra himself. In fact, the Eye became its own symbol, representing a range of concepts, including fertility, femininity, protection, and violence.
In ancient Egypt, the Eye of Ra was a representation of protection, power, and royal authority. Nowadays, it remains a protective symbol for many, keeping evil and danger at bay.