Frequently Asked Questions

Egyptian mythology is definitely not the easiest topic to learn and understand. Many questions have been asked about the topic that can not be answered anywhere else other than in this medium. At the end, there will also be answers to questions about this web site.

Q: Why are there so many different spellings of the gods' and goddesses' names?

Q: You have the god "Ra" listed as "Re"! What's up with that??

Q: Why are there so many different myths or versions of myths to explain the same phenomenon?

Q: What race or ethnic background were the ancient Egyptians?

Q: Hey! I want to know about the phoenix!

Q: Many descriptions I read of the gods and goddesses say that the information was originally found in the "Pyramid Texts" or the "Coffin Texts". What are these texts?

Q: I would like to use this web site as a reference in my school report. How do I do that?

Q: Could you please send me more information about {insert name of a god}?

Q: What references were used in the creation of this web site?

Q: Where can I find more information about this web site?

Q: Why are there so many different spellings of the gods' and goddesses' names?

A: The Egyptian language has no written vowels, much as written Hebrew does not. Therefore, when an Egyptologist attempts to translate an Egyptian word he comes across various difficulties. For example, if English had no vowels and you came across the word: BT. How would you translate it? BAT, BUT, ABOUT, BIT, BOAT? Fortunately for those who do translate hieroglyphics, the Egyptians would include what is known as a "determinative". This is a hieroglyphic that is strictly visual and helps the reader to decide among various choices as to what a series of symbols means. Therefore the translator can generally pick out the meaning of the word. This is good for those words that have an English counterpart. For words, such as names, that have no such equivalent the spelling (and pronunciation) is limited by the translator's own creativity. One example is Sir E. A. Wallis Budge who translated the earth god Geb's name as "Seb", "Keb" and "Qeb". It is generally agreed that none of these is correct.

h
n
w = h+n+w = Liquid measure?
= Rejoicing?
= Neighbors?
h
n
w beer pot determinative = h+n+w+
beer pot det.
= Liquid measure
h
n
w jubilation determinative = h+n+w+
jubilation det.
= Rejoicing
h
n
W people determinative = h+n+w+
people det.
= Neighbors

Because so many hieroglyphic words could be read as homonyms or near-homonyms (i.e., like sounding words, such as the English wait, weight and wade) Egyptian scribes made liberal use of determinative symbols to be sure their readers grasped the correct meaning. The letters hnw, at top right, could be pronounced as anything from hinew to ohanow and could have a number of different meanings. Therefore the word is never seen without one of several determinatives: a beer jug to indicate the word for a liquid measure; a man giving the ritual sign of jubilation to show the word for rejoicing; and the figures of a man and woman over a plural symbol (three parallel strokes) to illustrate the word for neighbors or associates, By this system, the Egyptians could use the same grouping of letters to indicate as many as 10 completely different words.

Another reason that there are so many different spellings of the names of Egyptian gods and goddesses is that many of the names of the most familiar deities are really Greek corruptions of the Egyptian originals. Below is a list of the common Greek name and the Egyptian (as best translated) original. Please note that the names of the gods used in this web site are those that are believed to be the most familiar to visitors. Most people probably would not recognize the name, Yinepu, while they would know a little bit about Anubis.

 

Greek/Roman   Egyptian
Anubis .................................................................. Yinepu
Anukis .................................................................. Anqet
Bastet .................................................................. Bast
Hathor .................................................................. Hethert
Horus .................................................................. Heru
Isis .................................................................. Aset
Mayet .................................................................. Ma'at
Neith .................................................................. Nit
Nephthys .................................................................. Nebt-het
Osiris .................................................................. Wesir
Sachmis .................................................................. Sekhmet
Satis .................................................................. Satet
Seth .................................................................. Set
Suchos .................................................................. Sobek
Thoth .................................................................. Djehuty

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Q: You have the god "Ra" listed as "Re"! What's up with that??

A: First, read the explanation on why the names of the gods and goddesses are spelled so many different ways, then come back.

Done? Okay... do you remember the part about how ancient Egyptian was not written with vowels? That means that Egyptologists don't really know how the name was pronounced and therefore do not know really how to spell it. The best educated guess for this particular god is that the name was pronounced "Ray". Therefore, this site uses the spelling "Re". However, you will notice that on the page about Re, a given alternate spelling is "Ra".

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Q: Why are there so many different myths or versions of myths to explain the same phenomenon?

A: Unlike the famous Greek myths that would consist of a single story to explain a certain event (for example, the kidnapping of Persephone resulting in the season of winter) the Egyptians' stories of how things came to be rarely were so homogenous. There are various myths of creation. Within the individual myths, there are conflicting details.

A reason for this is that each community of Egypt had their own principal gods and goddesses which they revered above all others (for examples of various community cosmogonies, please visit "the Land" section). Yet each group of people would have myths to explain the same common phenomenon: The creation of the earth, the sun's daily travels, life after death. Thus multiple myths developed in Egypt explaining the same thing. As noted above, the Egyptians were very tolerant of other explanations and not too picky about plot details. To them, multiple explanations were not conflicting in their eyes, but rather enhanced the story of the phenomenon by adding another aspect or additional details to it.

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Q: What race or ethnic background were the ancient Egyptians?

An Egyptian priest A: This is a very popular question, and unfortunately, there is no simple answer. However, it is an important one to address due to the racial divide the exists in many countries today, especially the United States. An ancient history professor once related the anecdote of how in one of his classes, a student wanted to know why Africa didn't have any civilizations in ancient times. When asked where he was when the class covered ancient Egypt, the student became visibly exasperated and said, "Yah... but they don't count!" His explanation for this statement was that the Egyptians were not negroes, and thus not really "African".

In a way, the student was right. The ancient Egyptians were not "black". However, they were not "white" or any other so-called "race." This does not mean that they were not African though. A simple matter of geography forces them into that classification. Ancient Egypt was the most successful and longest lasting civilization on Earth, and it was African.

So how does one determine what "race" a people are? Sociologists and historians use various yardsticks to determine this, such as physical characteristics of the people, what language they spoke, or what religion they believed in, etc...

Seated at the juncture of three continents, the Egyptians showed the physical characteristics of Caucasians, Negroes, and Asians. With the migration of various peoples into the Nile Valley throughout the thousands of years in which the Egyptian culture flourished, it is nearly impossible to avoid a racial mixture of the population. Therefore, the most heated debate centers around what race the Predynastic or earliest Egyptians were, the "original" Egyptians, if you will. Yet again, skeletal remains indicate that they shared the characteristics of Caucasians, Asians and Negroes.

Linguistically, Egyptians spoke and wrote a language that held Semetic and sub-Saharan African properties. Their language fell into the language group that linguists call, "Afro-Asiatic". Language is not necessarily the best yardstick to use concerning racial background though. One must remember that languages can be spoken by vastly different ethnicities, just as Spanish is spoken today by both Spaniards and South American Indians.

In terms of religion, the Egyptians appeared to have a mostly indigenous belief system. That is, they thought it up for themselves. It is most original among the ancient peoples of the world. It many ways it was a "monolatry". A monolatry is a religion where one god's many personalities are seen as somewhat separate deities. For instance, the sun god Re, his other aspects or personalities were known as Atum, Khepera and Horus. When the Egyptians wished to emphasize that the god they were referring to was expressing more than one personality, they would hyphenate the name, "Re-Atum", etc... A Nubian captiveA captive Shasu-bedouin

At one point, each of these personalities were probably separate deities (which is how they are treated in this website). As Egypt grew to encompass the entire Nile Valley from the Delta to the Cataracts, the individual communities learned more about the belief systems and deities of their neighbors and incorporated these new gods which were similar to their into their religion.

However, it must be noted that several "Egyptian" gods probably originated in other countries. for instance, Bes probably came from Sub-Saharan Africa. Qetesh was a Semetic (Middle Eastern) goddess, and Serapis was Greek.

Perhaps the most important question to answer is: What race did the Egyptians believe they belonged to? The ancient Egyptians saw themselves as being ethnically distinctive from both the Asiatics to the north and the Negros to the south. The tiles from a palace shown here depict a negro and an Asiatic captive. They look distinctly different from the Egyptian priest shown above. Both in art and in literature, it was clear that they saw themselves as being different from their neighbors. The Egyptians believed that they were of the "Egyptian" race.

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Q. Hey! I want to know about the phoenix!

A: For some reason no one seems to be able to find the phoenix though it has been on the site for quite a long while now. The phoenix is located under the Symbols section, as the bird was really a symbol of the sun and Osiris. Or you could just go there now.

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Q. Many descriptions I read of the gods and goddesses say that the information was originally found in the "Pyramid Texts" or the "Coffin Texts". What are these texts?

A: You can find your answer in Funerary Texts which is part of the Land section.

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Q: I would like to use this web site as a reference in my school report. How do I do that?

A: Any of the three below is correct. If you are submitting college-level work, you should find out if the APA method or the MLA is the one your professor expects.

In all cases, you would replace the date with whatever date you visited the site. For APA and MLA methods, Ancient Egypt: the Mythology does not have an edition date, so 'No date' or 'N.D.', respectively, should be used. In all the examples below the citation is for the document the Udjat, visited on December 6, 1997

Standard citation:
McDevitt, April. "Name of Document" Ancient Egypt: the Mythology.
     http://www.egyptianmyths.net/(filename). date of visit.

Example:
McDevitt, April. "the Udjat" Ancient Egypt: the Mythology.
     http://www.egyptianmyths.net/udjat.htm. December 6, 1997


APA method:
McDevitt, A. (No date). Name of Document. Ancient Egypt: the Mythology.
     http://www.egyptianmyths.net/(file name). (date of visit).

Example:
McDevitt, A. (N.D.) the Udjat. Ancient Egypt: the Mythology.
     http://www.egyptianmyths.net/udjat.htm (6 Dec. 1997).


MLA method:
McDevitt, April. "Name of Document" Ancient Egypt: the Mythology. N.D.
     http://www.egyptianmyths.net/(file name) (date of visit).

Example:
McDevitt, April. "the Udjat" Anciet Egypt: the Mythology N.D.
     http://www.egyptianmyths.net/udjat.htm (6 Dec. 1997)

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Q: Could you please send me more information about {insert name of a god}?

A: In general, all the available information on each deity is posted online, although it may be summarized. Therefore, there is nothing additional to send or provide for you. Please visit your local library for anything else you need, or review the books in the Bookstore. However, if you do have a specific question regarding a deity that is not on the web site yet, please feel free to ask.

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Q: What references were used in the creation of this web site?

A: All of the books found in AE:tM's bookstore were used as references for the information on this site. Usually at least three or more books found in the bookstore have been consulted for each article on this site.

Q: Where can I find more information about this web site?

A: Right here!

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