THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS had a rich, complex mythology. These stories helped them try to understand where they came from and how their world worked.
The National Geographic “Treasury of Egyptian Mythology,” by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Christina Balit, sets the stage for all that would follow:
In the beginning, before there was time, water spread in every direction, though there was no direction really because there was no up, no down; no east, no west; no inside, no outside. This water lay cold and colorless. A wet nothingness that hummed nunnnnnn. Nun. Nun. This was the cosmos.
Think about that: nothing but water, everywhere. Pretty crazy right? Well, suddenly, waves started: at first pretty small ones, but then they started to turn into tsunamis all in a rhythm: thump-thump, thump-thump. A heat formed around this pulse, a heart with a thought in it:
Ah, the first profound disorder: thought. This single thought rubbed faster and faster until it warmed and finally ignited language. The god Ra sprang into life with a word already in his mouth.
More bubbled up. Words now crowded his mouth. They trampled his tongue and pushed against his teeth, his lips. He had so many words to enunciate. The need hammered at him. From that very need came lungs and a voice box and muscles to make it all move. Ra shouted the first word over and over, and those shouts formed lava and spewed forth through the waters of Nun in a fiery explosion. That was the first thing Ra made. A mound of creation that Ra called benben.
Ra’s words held the power of creation. This myth allowed humans to name things, worship things, and have a theory of how everything around them was made.
Tefnut, goddess of moisture, had two children, Geb and Nut, the sky and the Earth. Knowing where these things came from allowed the Egyptians to know what the Earth and the sky were. It allowed them to explain the existence of the sky and the Earth. Through this story the mortals were able to learn how and when the universe was created, and they wanted to know more — which was important for ancient scientists. They used this information to further study both sky and Earth, later leading to discoveries that have formed our science world now.
Tehuti is the god of knowledge. He is why the Egyptians made each year have 365 days. He is the one who ensured that mortals can solve problems. He gave people spoken and written words, numbers, reason, and science. Tehuti gave people the tools and ability to understand the world. He ensures the cycle of night and day by bringing Ra across the sky every morning.
For the Egyptians, without Tehuti there was no night and day, no sun, no sunsets or sunrises. They worshiped him for fear that if he got mad the cycle of day and night would be lost forever.
These are the ways that Egyptian mythology played a role in ancient Egyptians’ lives.
This is the first in Eliza Bogel’s occasional series on world mythology for the Flow.