Flames leap into the air, dancing and twirling, as forests of turquoise materialize in the swirling mist. Ferocious demons with heads of vicious lions and hair matted with blood loom out of the shadows in front of the barge, baring their teeth in snarls and flinging themselves into combat with the gods and goddesses swarming around it. As the battle rages around the barge, brilliant, incandescent light radiates from a throne of pure fire upon which the sun god, Ra, sits calmly. The crook and flail hang from his waist, and his loyal guardians fight around him. Every night, it is the same, the exact same barge, the very raging battle, and the journey through the Duat. Many wonders and feats of ancient Egypt, the echoes of its past, still exist centuries after the fall of the empire. Egypt is still very much alive and so are her gods. Egyptian mythology and religion, including the creation myth, Ma’at and Isfet, and the Afterlife, continue to intrigue the world.
The creation myth introduces the major gods and goddesses, explaining how the universes and all life came to be, from the tiniest ant to the dawn of the civilization of humans. According to the creation myth, the world was just a vast void of never-ending water, Nun, in the beginning of time. From its tumultuous, foaming waters, Atum, the first god, rose into being and created a mound of earth upon which he could stand on. The self-created god, gazing at the endless expanse of blue, sneezed out Shu, the god of wind, and spat out Tefnut, the goddess of moist air. When the newborn god and goddess became fully-grown, they married, producing Geb, the earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess. Nut and Geb declared themselves husband and wife right after they grew up, but their happiness did not last. Nut defied Ra, the sun god or Atum reincarnated, to give birth to her children. As soon as Ra discovered what Nut had done, he ordered Shu to isolate Geb and Nut forever, so the air between the sky and earth was created. Husband and wife had to stay away from each other, enduring the pain and Ra’s wrath for an eternity.
Sunlight scorched the cracked, barren earth, the rays blinding. Savage winds ravaged the land, kicking up dust in their wake, as parched riverbeds awaited the cool relief of water. Sandstorms tore through the expanse of land, a fog that rolled in from the horizon. It was earth as it used to be, without any creatures to inhabit it. Ra, observing this from the heavens, called upon Khnum, the ram-headed god, to consult him about the matter. After days of discussing, they finally came upon an idea. Khnum collected clay and sculpted figurines from it. Breathing life into the inept sculptures, the potter imparted a portion of his life force into the clay, and thus, humans were introduced to the world.
Ma’at and Isfet
The very basis of the Egyptian belief system is Ma’at and Isfet. Ma’at is the goddess of truth, justice, and order, personified as a woman in a long, tight-fitting dress with ocher skin and an ostrich feather perched upon her head. The goddess symbolizes the order of creation and balance, whereas Isfet is the opposite of all Ma’at stands for, chaos, evil, and injustice. Everything in the world revolves around order and chaos. If Ma’at prevails, then Isfet will fail. As the story goes, it has been this way from the beginning of time, when Atum created order out of the primordial waters of chaos. Ma’at must always be made out of Isfet, ensuring cosmic balance. Pharaohs defended it; peasants strove to retain it; empires rose and fell to keep the cosmos in equilibrium.
The Egyptian Afterlife, including Duat and Aaru, is rich with mysteries, filled with mystical realms and arcane lands. The Duat, a void below the mortal world, is the Egyptian Underworld, where Ra passes through on his reed barge every night to bring light to the world at dawn. Torrid lakes of fire boil in the darkness. Lion-headed monstrosities that bear names the living dare not speak gorge on blood, their matted fur shining crimson. The River of Night flows eerily into the Underworld, its various cataracts churning the water to a foamy froth and the tributaries confusing those who enter. Amid it all, the Hall of Justice stands, where a soul is judged after its journey through the Underworld.
After a deceased one dies, the myth tells us that its ba, everything that makes a human an individual, would leave the body and be carried away by the currents of the Duat. Then, it would embark on a tough journey through the Underworld to arrive in the Hall of Judgment, where the last test the ba needs to take would take place. If it failed, the soul would be obliterated, but if it passed, it could continue on to Aaru. In the paradise, fertile land stretches to the horizon, where the sun is at its zenith, shining high in the sky, a ball of flame. Eternal reed fields cover it, with abundant food and warm breezes. The ba could live on in the Afterlife, welcomed by the sun’s loving embrace, the rays of luminescent light, warm caresses.
Therefore, Egyptian religion and mythology has intensely fascinated the whole world. I am sure you will agree that its mystical creation myth, ideas of Isfet and Ma’at, and distinctive form of the Afterlife are forever engraved in the sands of time. So next time you spot the statue of an Egyptian god or goddess, do not just pass it for a moldy relic, think of it as a primordial being that could once change the course of the universe. Even though the ancient Egyptian civilization is long gone, its legacy, the remnants of a once-great empire, still lasts today.