Most of the people would define a myth as a story. But this is not the correct meaning of a myth. The debate over the accurate meaning of myth has been going through since last 2000 years. The most generally accepted definition of a myth is that, myths are stories regarding the gods. They are sacred stories and they give an explanation about the way the world is. They are traditional stories that contain knowledge and information. (Pinch 1-5)
Mythological stories have been told by the Egyptians for thousands of years. They, however, properly started recording and writing these mythological stories from 2000 BC. In the ancient times the Egyptians had a number of gods. People belonging to different regions had different gods whom they worshiped. With the development of society, people of different regions started living together, and the stories regarding the culture, traditions, religion and way of living of people of different region started to blend together. The people from one region started to include the gods from another region in their myths. The structure of these myths somewhat overlapped but the Egyptians were completely satisfied with this structure. The myths from different regions contradict each other at times, for instance in one myth god Seth is represented as the protector and savior of the southern region, whereas, in another myth he is represented as the enemy of all other gods. (Hamilton 8-10)
In the ancient times some myths were written to teach people certain lessons, for example, in one myth goddess Isis disguised herself as a poor woman to check who would help her. A rich woman met Isis but Isis and refused to help her whereas, a poor fish woman helped Isis and took her to her home. As a result a scorpion bit the rich woman and she suffered great pain. This myth teaches the people the importance of humanity and generosity. With the passage of time the structure of myths kept on changing and the myths about few gods and goddesses became very popular. (Hamilton 8-10)
The ancient Egyptian mythology was not predominantly discriminated. But it contained certain kinds of discrimination. One of these was racial discrimination as most of the myths are written about the male deities and their power, therefore, it may lead towards a sense of discrimination against female gender. (Massey 51-53)
The mythology was kept hidden from a certain class of people and it was prohibited to share the sacred mythology with the lower class of people so this leads towards social discrimination. As the people belonging to the lower class were not included in the ancient Egyptian mythology, neither was the information contained in this mythology was shared with the people belonging to the lower class of the ancient Egyptian civilization. Kings in the ancient times were considered to be the link between humanity and gods and hence they were given supreme importance over others. (Massey 51-53)
History of the Egyptian Myths
According to a number of scholars, myths were not present in the early time of the Egyptian history and they were developed in the latter times. This fact is supported by the scarce number of the mythological stories. The basic reason behind the development of Egyptian mythology was to give an account for the rituals that existed in the ancient Egypt. In the beginning myths did not play an important role in explaining the rituals that were prevalent in Egypt. In the later stage of the development of the mythologies, Egyptian rituals were being honored as holy, first by the inclusion of deities, the people possessing supernatural powers, and then by the inclusion of events that took place in the world of the gods as these events were important for adding authenticity to the Egyptian rituals. (Dijk 1697-1700)
However, according to some scholars, the early stages of the development of the Egyptian mythology were hypothetical and were based on the events that did not exist in the reality. The scholars have commented that only the later stage of the development of the Egyptian mythology is well documented and it reflects the Egyptian rituals and culture in a detailed manner. (Dijk 1697-1700)
Creation of Myths
The Egyptians were always curious about knowing about the origin of the world and of the universe as well. This speculation gave way to the creation mythology, theology and even philosophy. The curiosity in this area led towards the creation of the major religious concepts of Heliopolis, Memphis, Hermopolis and Thebes. The theologies related to each of the discussed religious concepts often compete with each other and this led towards an increase in the curiosity to know more about each of the religious centers and hence it led towards the creation of increased number of myths. (Dijk 1697-1700)
Mystery in the Egyptian Mythology (Reason for the Absence of Myths in The Early Egyptian Period)
A reason for the absence of the Egyptian mythology from the early documents of the Egyptian history is that in the earlier times the myths were communicated orally and they were not documented in the written form. This is because the knowledge contained in these myths is restricted to the specific religious class of the Egyptian society including the kings and some high officials. And these people were asked not to reveal this information to any other party as it was regarded as a mystery. In the myth of Re and Osiris it is stated that, ‘he who will reveal it will be executed, for it is a great mystery, it is Re, it is Osiris’. The information contained in these mythologies was revealed to a selected group of people who then turned towards priesthood. The small amount of historical myths that were documented cannot be easily accessed as they were the eternal part of Egyptian history and are hidden in the innermost parts of the temples or are hidden in the tombs at Thebes in the Valley of the Kings. This proves that the early mythologies were to be kept as hidden mysteries. (Dijk 1697-1700)
Sources of Egyptian Mythology
The religion of ancient Egypt did not have any authentic religious book such as the Bible or the Quran. The relationships between different gods and deities were not developed in a single moment in time, instead they kept on changing with the passage of time. The priests and the scholars in the ancient Egypt did not compile the Egyptian mythology in one appropriate document like the Greek mythology. There are only a few relevant well documented forms of mythology that comes from different Egyptian languages and regions. The Egyptian mythology had to be gathered from various written documents so that it could be compiled into relevant sources. There are various numbers of such sources. (Pinch 1-5)
Impact of the Egyptian Mythology on the Egyptian Culture
The Egyptian mythology formed the basis for the Egyptian religion. The basic purpose of the Egyptian religion was the maintenance of Ma’at and Egyptian mythology contained the actions that led towards its maintenance. For this purpose, Egyptian rituals generally consisted of the actions that somewhat represented the mythical events. But the Egyptian rituals do not usually include the reenactment of the entire mythical event. Usually the Egyptian rituals consisted of basic actions, such as giving offering to different gods and myths acted as a guidance or basis of these rituals. Myths and rituals influence each other greatly. In the ancient times if a ritual did not have a myth it was interpreted that it had one as ancient myths inspired the Egyptian rituals. Mythology also provided a basic guideline for the structure of government in the ancient Egyptian society. (“Egyptian Mythology”)
Ancient mythology has greatly influenced the art of that time as the drawings or pictures of gods and other mythological events are present in all of the temples, tombs and funeral texts. The art was designed in a way so that it may evoke the themes of the Egyptian mythology. Apart from that, the symbols, representing mythical events were, designed in a manner so that they could be reinterpreted in a number of ways. This is because the meaning of myths kept on changing with the passage of time and so does the meaning of their symbols. (“Egyptian Mythology”)
The Egyptian literature is also heavily influenced by the themes of mythology. Apart from religious texts, the mythical themes can also be found in non-religious texts. The non-religious texts adopt the mythical themes to convey some moral lessons and they use the mythical themes for purposes other than religion. The diversified functions performed by various religious and non-religious texts elaborate the ways in which the mythology has affected the Egyptian culture, religion and traditions. (“Egyptian Mythology”)
Importance of Egyptian Mythology in Understanding the Global History
Myths are the basic structure of the global history. We were given the first systematic explanation of the world and its working by myths. The primary mode of understanding the purpose of life and its beginning, we rely on myths. The unity of Egypt and the foundation of the first Egyptian dynasty by King Menes is the first historical event that is recorded. The Egyptians were pioneers of recording historical events and after them; the trend was followed by different people in the world. (David A. 283-292)
These Egyptian myths help us understand Egypt at that time. In Egypt, the kings were assumed as the link between men and God. These myths help us understand the thinking of the Egyptian people and the reasons behind their thoughts. The Egyptian people respected their kings more than anyone else. In the later days, these kings were thought of as Gods. Different areas had their different kings and thus different Gods. Battles were fought to gain different territories and more followers. The Egyptian empire is significant in the global history and these myths help us understand this empire in depth. (David A. 283-292)
In addition to that, the myths help us appropriate the stories in the history. They have helped and will continue to help people in personalizing the stories of many major events such as floods and earthquakes. Egyptian myths were also used to incite one group of people against the other. These myths were written by the people that belonged to different areas with different gods to degrade the beliefs of the other areas. As we all know that these myths then affect the history as Egyptian dynasties form a significant part of ancient global history. (Geoffrey P. 3-5)
Egyptian myths helped the ancient history writers tell the reasons for supernatural events. They associated myths with it to justify that every such event has a relation with gods. These myths, however, were never true but they gave us a way to see what the ancient human beings used to think about calamities. This is also a major part of the global history. (Geoffrey P. 3-5)
Moreover, the Egyptian myths also provided the history recorders of that time with answers about the world. These myths, although untrue, were the stories that the human beings of that time believed in and they wrote about them in books of history. These myths were considered true until the emergence of science and calculations. All the reasons given by the myths were then assessed and rejected if they were proved false. These myths, however, could never be erased from the global history as they still remain to be the first things that the human beings thought about this world. (Geoffrey P. 3-5)
Religion has been important in the history of mankind. People have followed different religions in different phases of the history. The history shows the importance of religion to humans. The ancient myths provide the framework for the earliest of the religions that were recorded. These Egyptian myths included stories of power possessed by animals and super humans and thus the people started worshipping them to get their problems solved. So, Egyptian myths are considered to be the framework of the ancient religions which are and will always be a part of global history. (Geoffrey P. 3-5)
International Issues Created by Egyptian Myths
These myths are important and thus they have positive and negative impacts on the people. To begin with, these myths created a gender bias among the people. Although Egypt treated men and women with more equality than its neighbors but the equality was not extended to higher class especially the pharaohs. Most of the time the heroes in these myths were male and their rulers were also male. The rulers were thought to be links to gods and sometimes the ruler was considered the god. Thus it gave rise to an international issue of gender discrimination and as the people began to explore the Egyptian myths and their history, their minds developed a better place for males than for the females. In Egyptian myths, women were considered inferior because they only bore children and took care of them. The men, however, were considered to be conquerors and rulers. They were depicted as the brave super humans who defeat the enemies and bring in more and more followers. This was the reason why the power shifted from father to son in Egypt. Furthermore, women looked after the daily needs of their family and this was seen by the men as the women serving them. This added to the issue of gender discrimination and this was passed on to the people who studied Egyptian mythology. (“Ancient Myth, Religion, and Philosophy”)
Another issue that is created by Egyptian myths is slavery. Egyptian pharaohs are said to have slaves from war, debt, punishment and voluntary servitude. These pharaohs also used to capture different slaves for their works. These slaves then did the works that the ruler demanded them to do. The slaves were also traded. The prices of slaves differed with their beauty, skills and strength. Although these slaves were treated fairly but it is reported that these slaves did all the works to build the Egyptian pyramids. The explorers of Egyptian mythology do get a lesson about slave keeping and trading. These explorers would also get a mindset that it is legal to keep and buy slaves if you can afford it and then you can sell them if there is a need. This issue of slavery, however, has controversies that these slaves were treated in a good way so there is no harm in keeping them. (“Ancient Egypt: Slavery, its causes and practice”)
Questions That Arise About the Egyptian Mythology
The famous Egyptian mythology left behind a series of beliefs and a lot of unanswered questions. These questions are about the Egyptian civilization, beliefs and monuments especially the pyramids. Egyptian mythology gave very much importance to the life after death. Their Pharaohs spent a lot of time making preparations for their eternal destination. This belief poses a question about the life after death. As we all know that the pyramids were constructed to preserve the bodies of the Pharaohs. The pyramids have no entrance or exits and the body of the Pharaoh lies there preserved. So the question arises that was the preservation of the body needed? Is the Egyptian belief about life after death correct? (“Egyptian Mythology – Evidence of the Afterlife”)
The body of the Pharaoh would also receive food offerings and things to eat and drink. The people would bring food and put it inside the tombs of their Pharaoh. This raises another question. Is the deceased Pharaoh alive inside his tomb? If not, then why does he need all the food and nourishment? Can he move about in his tomb? (“Egyptian Mythology – Evidence of the Afterlife”)
Moreover, the people inscribed the person’s life on his tomb. This was accompanied by the inscription of the soul’s journey in the life after death. The figures of the slaves owned by the deceased person were also drawn on the tomb. In addition to that, spells from the book of dead, different verses and carved and decorated coffins were placed inside the tombs for the protection of the soul. Thus a question arises that did the soul need protection? Were all these preparations necessary? If not then why did the Egyptians care so much about the protection of the dead body and the soul? (“Egyptian Mythology – Evidence of the Afterlife”)
The Egyptian myths also portrayed the journey of a soul through the underworld. This included the hearing that was judged by forty two divine judges. The soul would answer all the questions asked about his deeds in the life and it is believed that the soul would know how to answer them. After that, the heart of the soul would be measured against a feather. The feather is known as the feather of truth. If the heart is heavier, it will be rejected otherwise it will be accepted. The accepted souls will proceed to the Field of Rushes and the rejected ones’ bodies will be devoured and they will be casted off. (“Egyptian Mythology – Evidence of the Afterlife”)
The Field of Rushes is the reward for the souls that have passed the test. It is considered to be the perfect version of Egypt with no shortages, no grieves and the people inhabiting it will be happy always. The deceased who get into the Field of Rushes, will also be able to meet their ancestors who have made it. Thus all the loved ones will be returned to the person and he will live forever in happiness. The question about this entire journey and the destination is that will it really happen? Who will be the judges? Are the gods real? Who created the Field of Rushes? (“Egyptian Mythology – Evidence of the Afterlife”)
In addition to the beliefs about the life after death, the Egyptian mythology also portrays some human beings as supernatural. Some rulers are portrayed as gods and demigods who have supernatural powers and they will be judging the rest of the people in the afterlife. Such as Osiris, an Egyptian ruler is believed to be the god of the underworld and the chief judge. These myths also tell us that Osiris will be the one to take the ones who have passed to the Field of Rushes. There are many questions related to this myth like is it possible for a human to be supernatural? (David A. 283-292)
There are also questions about the different names of gods and goddesses and their different spellings. People also ask about the race and background of the Egyptians. In addition to that, there are questions about the text inscribed on the coffins and pyramids. (“Ancient Egypt: the Mythology- Frequently Asked Questions”)
The Methods Applied by the Historians to Find the Answers
These questions belong to the myths and inscriptions of the Egyptians and so do their answers. The historians explored these writings and illustrations and found out the answers to the questions posed by the Egyptian myths. These answers had a direct impact on the people as they got them. Many people started believing in the life after death and entered a new phase of their lives. The historians also carefully assessed the pyramids and got more answers to the mysteries of the Egyptian myths. So the answers to these questions were present in the myths themselves. Some questions, however, still remain unanswered and they add to the appeal of the subject. (“BBC – History – Ancient History in depth: Ancient Egypt and the Modern World”)
The Egyptian mythology roots back to the ancient Egyptian society. The mythology played a great role in shaping the beliefs and attitudes of the people at that time. It had a great impact on the culture, religion, literature and art of the ancient Egyptian civilization. It, however, contained a few gender and social biases. Egyptian myths have a great importance in global history. The Egyptians were the pioneers of recording history and their myths have helped us a lot to understand the global history. There are certain issues and questions that are generated from these myths but their answers are also present in these myths. (“BBC – History – Ancient History in depth: Ancient Egypt and the Modern World”)
Bbc.co.uk. “BBC – History – Ancient History in depth: Ancient Egypt and the Modern World.” 2010. Web. 1 May 2013. .
Center for Future Consciousness. “Ancient Myth, Religion, and Philosophy.” 2013. Web. 1 May 2013. .
David A., Warburton. “Myth as the Link between Event and History.” IBAES X. 283-292. Web. 1 May. 2013. .
Dijk, Jacobus. Myth and Mythmaking in Ancient Egypt. Groningen: University of Groningen, 2008. 1697-1700. Web. .
“Egyptian Mythology.” Crystallink. N.p., 12 february 2006. Web. 1 May 2013. .
Egyptianmyths.net. “Ancient Egypt: the Mythology- Frequently Asked Questions.” 1997. Web. 1 May 2013. .
Geoffrey P., Dobson. A Chaos of Delight. illustrated. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing Limited, 2005. 3-5. Web. .
Hamilton, John. Egyption Mythology. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2011. 8-10. eBook. http://books.google.com.pk/books?id=RZVfkO7Imk8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0>
Massey, Gerald. Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World A Work of Reclamation and Restitution in Twelve Books. London: 1907. 51-53. eBook. .
Netplaces.com. “Egyptian Mythology – Evidence of the Afterlife.” n.d.. Web. 1 May 2013. .
Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2002. 1-5. eBook. .
Reshafim.org.il. “Ancient Egypt: Slavery, its causes and practice.” 1900. Web. 1 May 2013. .
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