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GODDESSES AND GODS OF ANCIENT EGYPT (VII)
MANIFESTATIONS OF THE GODDESSES AND GODS
Goddess and God as many goddesses and gods
In the Egyptians texts, the goddesses and gods are often said to be ‘riche in names’, and the multiplicity of names (and therefore manifestations) exhibited by individual deities provides an important example of the principle whereby one goddess or god may be seen as many. In the New Kingdom text known as the Litany of Re, the solar god is identified in ‘all his evolutions’ as 75 different deities, including not only common forms of the sun but also female deities such as Isis and Nut. Osiris received prayers and litanies of praise under many names, and the mythological story explaining how his body was torn into pieces and scattered throughout Egypt, provides an example of how one goddess or god could become many. Yet this example is unique and such a physical explanation for multiple instances and locations of a deity was not necessary for the application of the principle. In the Ptolemaic temple of Edfu we find that the goddess Hathor is represented by as many forms as there are days in the year, but there seems to have been no mythic backdrop to this situation which would have required the Egyptians to posit many independent forms of the goddess. Perhaps the ultimate example of the multiplicity of divine names is to be found in the great god Amun, who was given so many names that the number was said to be unknowable.
Another aspect of the multiple names of individual goddess or gods, can be seen in those cases where a given deity was regarded as the ba or manifestation of another. Of the go Khnum, for example, it was often said that he wa the ‘ba of Re’ or of Osiris and so on, so that a given deity was not only associared with another, but also took on further names and identities in this manner. As several scholars have pointed out, the form, names and epithets of Egyptian deities seen to have been variable almost at will, and are often interchangeable with those of other deities. But while it could be argued that in almost all these casses, the various names and manifestations of deities are simply forms of the same underlying god or goddess, individual deities were manifest in often increasingly diverse ways showing a basic Egyptian predilection for the concept of one god or goddess as many.
Pantheism, the related idea that identifies all aspects of the universo with a god or goddess, is a concept that has appealed to a number of Egyptologists since the later part of the 19th century. These included scholars of the stature of Edouard Naville and James Henry Breasted, who felt that solar pantheism was an important part of anciant Egyptian religión. Yet, more recently, several Egyptologists have shown that Egyptian religión exhibits clear traits which deny this equation. These are the self-imposed limitation of Egyptian religión, which clearly did not try to deify every aspect of creation, and limitations in the number and types of forms which even the greatest goddess and gods are said to take. As Erik Hornung has written, ‘Amun may appear in the most various forms, but never as the moon, a tree or a stretch of water’, and this list may be extended considerably. In fact, as Marie-Ange Bonhême has put it, the boundaries of the individuality of the Egyptian deities, ‘forbids certain manifestations so as to prevent a progression toward complete pantheism’; and although the vast number of deities found in Egyptian religión may be reminiscent of pantheism, the resemblance is superficial, as Hornung rightly claims. For the Egyptians, the creator god may have manifested himself in his creation, but he was certainly not absorbed by it,
Many goddesses and gods as one
The ancient Egyptians seem to have formed groups among their deities since very early times. Although we cannot tell if the various deities depicted together on Pre- and Early Dynastic palettes and other artifacts were intended to represent groups of any kind, this might have been the case in some instances. However, by the time of the Pyramids Texts of the Old Kingdom, the grouping of gods and goddess into enneads of nine deities is fully established, as is the grouping of the Souls of Pe and Nekhen, or the Souls of Pe and Heliopolis and the ‘Followers of Horus’. Even before the formulation of these groups, there seems to have existed a very early grouping of gods called simply the khet or ‘body’. This is found in the Pyramid Texts, but is probably much older, as it may be seen in the names of several early monarchs beginning with the 1st Dynasty King Semerkhet.
Many other smaller groups of deities such as the various triads, tetrads, pentads, hexads, hebdomads and ogdoads, were also formed, but there is no clear pattern in the development of these groups and certainly no gradual movement toward smaller groupings which might indicate some kind of preliminary progression toward monotheism. In the same manner, although the number three was utilized by the Egyptians to signify a closed system which was both complete and interactive among its parts, the many triads of deities which developed in Egyptian religion were in no way directly comparable to the Christian idea of the trinity. Egyptian groups of three deities were usually linked in a father-mother-child unión, but this was never expressed as a unity, and each member of the triad preserved his or her distinct individuality as a separate deity.
The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt
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María Sánchez-Villacañas de Toro
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