RE
Sun God


   The most important Egyptian god during most of Egyptian history was Re, the god of the sun. For the sun itself powerfully represented the stability and underlying rationality of the universe in its stable and regular journey through the sky during the day and through the Underworld during the night. Egyptians earlier associated the sun with the god Horus, whose eye was the sun itself (hence the symbolic value of the eye in Egyptian art and hieroglyphics), but later the sun would be associated with Re or Amun-Re

   Egyptian religion is a difficult world view to get a handle on. Although Egyptian religion was polytheistic ("many gods"), individual villages and cities would concentrate their spiritual efforts on a single god. When someone became king, they would often elevate the god of their city or village to the supreme god. This is how Re became the dominant god of Egypt. But more than anything else, the Egyptian king or pharoah was associated with the sun; like the sun, the king gave life and stability to the Egyptian kingdom. The king was himself a god who embodied the virtues of all the gods, but he especially was associated with the sun-god.

   The Egyptians, then, freely associated gods with the sun. As the pharoahs endowed local temples, the gods of those temples would be partially collapsed with the sun-god; for instance, the crocodile god Sebek eventually became Sebek-Re, that is, both Sebek and Re. Suffice it to say that by the New Kingdom, the worship of the sun was the dominant religion in Egypt no matter what the local village or city god was.

   The early Egyptians believed that the sun was born by Nut, the sky-goddess, every morning and died in her arms every evening. If you think about this, it means that every Egyptian saw every day a celestial demonstration of the reality of birth and rebirth, of the underlying sameness and rationality of time and change. In this view of the sun, it became a symbol of the promise of continual life. This view of the course of the sun persisted all throughout Egyptian history. The dominant view of the sun, however, was that it passed through the sky in a boat called "The-Boat-of-a-Million-Years." In the morning it was the Dawn-Boat (manzet-boat) and in the evening it was the Evening-Boat (mesektet-boat). The sun-god rode in the boat with his followers across the sky during the day and through the underworld during the night. While the day journey was uneventful, the Underworld was a dangerous place, full of darkness and monsters. (The Egyptians believed that the sun only gave off heat but not light.)

   In religious ceremonies, the symbol for the sun was a pyramidal stone (called a benben ); this small pyramid was frequently placed on the top of large towers called obelisks (such as the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.). Surprisingly, there are almost no stories or myths about Re or Amun-Re.

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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-6-96