I love fantasy, I always have. It brings more possibilities than any other type of fiction and has been the way we as a people have told stories our entire existence But for all the amazing things in fantasy, so many authors seem to draw from European history and myth, as well as other familiar tropes. While that’s all and good, with these posts I will explore the other realms of fantasy, the lore we don’t see too much, and the potential they have for the fantasy of the future.
Egypt is one of the kingdoms that defined the ancient world, a kingdom that has risen and fallen several times in the past five thousand years. A lot, and I mean a lot, has happened in and around Egypt just in the past couple of year, let alone the last thousand, and I’m not an expert on their history and this isn’t really an analysis of that. It is interesting and does add a lot of subtext to what they believed, so I would encourage study of their past. The valley of the kings alone is worth reading a book or two.
A few of the themes that everyone knows from Egyptian lore are life and death. Most everyone who is reading this has probably at one time or another seen The Mummy (still one of my favorite action-adventure movies) and so you know all about mummification, the book of the dead, death is only the beginning, etc. That just scratches the surface though.
First, the book of the dead wasn’t entirely a book, and wasn’t as portrayed in The Mummy. It was a collection of spells, some would be written on papyrus and placed int he tomb, many more would be painted or carved on the walls, sarcophagi, or other objects, meant to guide the individual through Duat.
Duat is, for all intensive purposes, the Egyptian Hell. Sort of. Although it wasn’t really described as being a pleasant place, it wasn’t supposed to be a punishment, more a test. Everyone who died went to Duat and there they had to prove themselves, answer questions, be judged, a dozen other incredible things before their spirit could pass on to Aaru, the Egyptian Heaven. Again, that’s not exactly what it was and the Egyptians didn’t seem to push as much effort into describing that, only that it was nice, but you get the idea.
(I use Heaven and Hell as a frame of reference, just about everyone who reads this knows what they refer to and mean, it is not to say this is the other version of this thing over here in Christianity we have.)
The judgement itself is one of the more well known myths they have. The person would have his heart (his soul) weighed by Anubis. As a counterbalance, a feather was placed against it. If the person had more sin, more chaos, more overall bad, in their heart than the feather, they were fed to Ammit, the devourer of souls. Ammit by the way, had the back end of a hippo, the front half of a lion, and the head of a crocodile. If they failed, well, they seemed to die again. From what I have read, that means they’re gone, their soul consumed.
Anyway, all of this was supposed to represent order, the cycle of the universe. The Egyptians had two things that ruled their world, the sun which rose and fell every day and the Nile, which rose and fell as well. The Nile was particularly important as its fluctuations could mean a bountiful crop, famine, or flooding. The Egyptians had a concept of Ma’at, that was the order of the universe. The Pharaoh’s sole responsibility was the maintain Ma’at. This concept played into the idea of cycles, that everything is just happening again. This is probably why death tied so heavily into their mythos, for the next cycle to begin, the first must finish.
The pantheon of Egyptian mythology has your usual players. You have your king god (Ra), god of the underworld (Usually Anubis), etc. but from there it gets incredibly complicated. For those who don’t know, we do not have a perfect grasp on Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, we had no idea what anything said, and still haven’t completely mastered the language. Furthermore, there were several linguistics changes throughout the thousands of years, along with cultural changes that merged and divided gods. As a result, some gods go by different names, some names apply to different gods, some are spelled a dozen different ways due to translation, others changed or were distorted as the civilization changed. Still more were influenced by the Pharaoh (who was god incarnate) and was associated with a different god who became more important because the boss said so.
Each of the gods was a personification of something from nature, often times sharing a role. They were also usually associated with principles that surrounded their fetish, the god of the moon being in charge of time and the calendar.
An interesting trend I see in Egyptian mythology is the benevolence of the gods. In most mythology I read, the gods are dicks. Greek mythology is just Zeus fucking one person after another and Hera coming along behind him turning that person into a plant or killing all their family. Norse mythology is just a big eternal kegger. The Egyptian gods had a duty, maintain the order of the things, and if bad things happened that was a failing of theirs, disorder in the universe taking its toll. They seem like the only deities I’ve read about who were portrayed as actually doing their damn jobs.
Set is the only one who seems to stir trouble, playing the role of Satan, but even then it isn’t until later. He was actually a protector of Ra until becoming demonized later and murdering Osiris. His portrayal is particularly interesting to me as he seems to have a clear evolution from order to chaos. Also, whereas all the others are represented by animals (Horus=hawk, Ra=falcon, Anubis=jackal, Sobek=crocidile) Set is represented by an unknown animal. People have theorized that it was a giraffe, aardvark, or donkey (and he did in fact later become represented by a donkey) but various other references contradict that.
There are a ton of details I’m leaving out, partly because I just didn’t have the time to delve into anything, but it is a whole world ripe for inspiration. There aren’t many stories that utilize Egyptian mythology, and I hope to see more one day.
If anyone has anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments.