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In Egyptian mythology, Ra, also known as Re, was the god of the sun and the creator of the universe. Due to his significant influence over the centuries, he merged with several other gods as part of their myths. Here’s a closer look at his story.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the statue of Ra.
Who Was Ra?
Ra was the creator of the world, the deity of the sun, and the first ruler of Egypt. In ancient Egyptian language, Ra was the word for sun, and the hieroglyph of Ra was a circle with a dot at the center. All the gods that came after Ra were his descendants, due to which he plays a central role in the Egyptian pantheon of gods. In some myths, however, Ra was the only god of all Egypt, and the other deities were merely aspects of him. After the creation, Ra ruled over the skies, the earth, and the Underworld. Apart from being the god of the sun, he was also the god of the sky, kings, and cosmic order.
According to some sources, Ra emerged at the dawn of creation from Nun, a motionless and infinite body of water, and was self-created. Other sources have stated that the gods Amun and Ptah created him. In other myths, however, he was the son of the goddess Neith and of Khnum.
Ra’s Role in Egyptian Mythology
Ra traveled across the sky on his solar boat, fulfilling his duty as the sun. In some other myths, he traveled across Nut, goddess of the sky, who swallowed him every night for him to be reborn from her the next day. This symbolized the continuous cycle of day and night.
Ra was the head and the most important deity of the Egyptian pantheon. He was the creator god from whom all the other deities sprang. According to some myths, Ra would visit the Underworld every night before his rebirth at the next dawn. He delivered light to the souls there and then returned to his duties the next day.
It was only with the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C.E. that Ra’s power and veneration began to decline.
Without a partner, Ra fathered the primordial deities Shu (the dry air) and Tefnut (the moisture). From these two deities, Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky) would be born, creating the world as we know it today.
Ra was also the father of Maat, the goddess of justice and righteousness. Since Ra was the god of order, some sources have stated that Maat was his favorite daughter. She had to do with the judging of the souls in the underworld.
Ra and the Myth of Creation
After Ra emerged from Nun, there was nothing in the world. His son Shu was the god of the air, and his daughter Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. From them sprang Geb, the god of the earth, and Nut, the goddess of the sky. Ra continued ruling over the world and creating elements and parts of it.
- The Creation of the Sun and the Moon
In some accounts, the world was dark at the beginning. To change that, Ra took out one of his eyes and placed it in the sky so that it illuminated the world for his children to see. The topic of the Ey of Ra became entangled with the similar one of the Eye of Horus in the Late Period, when the two gods were syncretized as the powerful god Ra-Horakhty. In his myth, the right and left eyes stood for the sun and the moon respectively. In a very well-known myth, Set had gouged out Horus’ left eye, damaging it, and while it was subsequently healed and replaced by Thoth, its light was considerably dimmer than that of the right eye.
- The Creation of Humanity
After Ra had created the first gods and the celestial bodies, he wept at the accomplishment of his labor. The myths propose that from his tears humans were born. In other accounts, the explanation for his crying is not clear; it could have been due to his loneliness or out of rage. Either way, humanity was born thanks to Ra, and people worshipped him for millennia due to it.
Ra and Nut
According to the myths, Ra wanted Nut to be his wife, but she fell in love with her brother, Geb. For this, Ra decided to punish her and cursed her. Nut could not give birth during the 360 days of the Egyptian calendar.
Nut asked Thoth, the god of wisdom, for his help to deliver her children. Thoth started gambling with the moon, and every time the celestial body lost, it had to give the god of wisdom a part of its moonlight. With the moonlight, Thoth was able to create five extra days for Nut to give birth to her children. Nut then gave birth to Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.
Ra did not recognize Nut’s children as righteous gods and rejected them. According to some authors, this could have been due to Ra’s fear of being overtaken by them. In the end, Nut’s children would become part of the Ennead, the most important deities of the Egyptian tradition at Heliopolis.
In this sense, the curse of Ra altered the Egyptian calendar and made it more like the calendar we have now. As Egyptians were perspicacious observers of the celestial bodies, they knew the year was 365 days long.
Ra and the Other Gods
Since Egyptian mythology and culture lasted an extensive period of time, there were many changes throughout it with regard to the deities. Ra was not always on his own, and there are myths and depictions of the god in which he merges with other deities of Ancient Egypt.
- Amun-Ra was the combination of Ra and the creator god Amun. Amun preceded Ra, and in some accounts, he was even part of Ra’s birth. Amun was a significant Theban deity, and Amun-Ra was a primordial god of the Middle Kingdom.
- Atum-Ra was a similar deity to Amun-Ra since the myths of Atum and Amun have been confused and mixed over time. Given that they were both ancient creator deities, there is confusion in their stories.
- Ra-Horakhty was the combination of Ra and Horus. In some myths, Horus takes over the duties of Ra when he was old. The name stands for Ra-Horus of the double horizon, and it refers to the journey of the sun during the day and its rebirth at the dawn of the next day. Horus was an omnipresent figure in Egyptian mythology since he had many forms and aspects.
- In some stories, the texts refer to Ra as Khepri, the sun of the morning. In some myths, Khepri is a different deity, but he might have been just another aspect of the great Ra.
- Some accounts also referred to Sobek-Ra, the combination of Ra with the crocodile god Sobek. Some authors have written that Sobek was a god of the sun too. In the Middle Kingdom, when Pharaoh Amenemhet III promoted Sobek to a worshipped deity, he merged with Ra.
Ra and the Destruction of Humankind
At one point, Ra discovered that humanity was plotting against him. Due to that, he sent his eye in the form of the goddess Hathor (or Sekhmet, depending on the source) to punish them, which she did as a lioness. This act was the introduction of death to the world. The killing spree of the goddess was such that Ra had to intervene and make her stop. That way, she could not wipe out humanity. After Ra had the goddess drunk, she forgot her violent nature, and humanity was saved.
What is the Eye of Ra?
The Eye of Ra was independent of Ra himself, with anthropomorphic qualities. It should not be confused with the Eye of Horus, which belonged to Horus and had completely different powers.
The Eye of Ra, sometimes called the Daughter of Ra, was his female counterpart, and was associated with several goddesses, including Sekhmet, Hathor, Wadjet and Bastet. It was believed to possess strong power and helped Ra to subjugate his enemies. It was a violent and vengeful force, associated with the sun.
Sometimes the Eye of Ra would become unhappy with Ra and run away from him. She would then have to be chased down and brought back. Without the Eye, Ra is vulnerable and loses much of his power.
The Eye of Ra was painted on pharaoh’s amulets and depicted on tombs, mummies and other artefacts. It was seen as a protective power as long as you were on the right side of it.
Depictions of Ra
Ra’s depictions varied depending on the time and the god with whom he merged. He was typically depicted as a human, identified by the sun disk that crowned his head, which was Ra’s most prominent symbol. A coiled cobra surrounded the disk, which was known as a Uraeus.
Ra was sometimes represented as a man with a scarab (dung-beetle) head. This relates to his connection with Khepri, the scarab god.
In some cases, Ra appears with the head of a falcon or the head of a crocodile. Still other depictions show him as a fully formed bull, ram, phoenix, beetle, cat or lion, to name a few.
Influence of Ra
Ra is one of the most widely worshipped deities of Ancient Egypt. As the creator god and the father of all humankind, people worshipped him throughout all the land. He was the beginning of a line of deities that would influence the culture of the world. His role concerned the creation, with the other deities, with the calendar, and more.
As the first ruler of Egypt, all the events that followed originated from him. In this sense, Ra was a god of supreme importance for ancient Egyptians.
Ra has been depicted in several movies and other artwork. In the famous movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the main character uses the staff of Ra in his search. Ra appears in other films and artistic depictions of the modern world.
Ra God Facts
Ra was self-created and therefore had no parents. However, in some myths, it is said that his parents were Khnum and Neith.
Ra’s siblings include Apep, Sobek and Serket. This is only if we assume that Ra’s parents were Khnum and Neith.
Ra had several consorts, including Hathor, Sekhmet, Bastet and Satet.
Ra’s children include Shu, Tefnut, Hathor, Ma’at, Bastet, Satet, Anhur and Sekhmet.
Ra was the sun god and the creator of the universe.
Ra was typically represented as a man with a sun disk over his head, but he was also depicted in various forms, including as a scarab-headed man, falcon-headed man, as a bull, ram and many more.
Ra was represented by a solar disk with a coiled snake.
Ra played a notable role in the grand scheme of ancient Egyptian mythology. Regardless of the specific culture, the sun was always a primordial part of life. Since Ra was not only the god of the sun but also the creator of the world, his significance was unmatched. His connections with the other deities made Ra a god who lived on throughout all the history of Ancient Egypt, metamorphosing to suit the times.