Egyptian Myth and Legend, by Donald Mackenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
In this volume the myths and legends of ancient Egypt are embraced in a historical narrative which begins with the rise of the great Nilotic civilization and ends with the Græco-Roman Age. The principal deities are dealt with chiefly at the various periods in which they came into prominence, while the legends are so arranged as to throw light on the beliefs and manners and customs of the ancient people. Metrical renderings are given of such of the representative folk songs and poems as can be appreciated at the present day.
Egyptian mythology is of highly complex character, and cannot be considered apart from its racial and historical aspects. The Egyptians were, as a Hebrew prophet has declared, a "mingled people", and this view has been confirmed by recent ethnological research: "the process; of racial fusion begun in the Delta at the dawn of history", says Professor Elliot Smith, "spread through the whole land of Egypt". In localities the early Nilotic inhabitants accepted the religious beliefs of settlers, and fused these with their own. They also clung tenaciously to the crude and primitive tribal beliefs of their remote ancestors, and never abandoned an archaic conception even when they acquired new and more enlightened ideas; they accepted myths literally, and regarded with great sanctity ancient ceremonies and usages. They even
showed a tendency to multiply rather than to reduce the number of their gods and goddesses, by symbolizing their attributes. As a result, we find it necessary to deal with a bewildering number of deities and a confused mass of beliefs, many of which are obscure and contradictory. But the average Egyptian was never dismayed by inconsistencies in religious matters: he seemed rather to be fascinated by them. There was, strictly speaking, no orthodox creed in Egypt; each provincial centre had its own distinctive theological system, and the religion of an individual appears to have depended mainly on his habits of life. "The Egyptian", as Professor Wiedemann has said, "never attempted to systematize his conceptions of the different divinities into a homogeneous religion. It is open to us to speak of the religious ideas of the Egyptians, but not of an Egyptian religion."
In our introduction we deal with the divergent character of some of the ancient myths so as to simplify the study of a difficult but extremely fascinating subject. It is shown that one section of the people recognized a Creator like Ptah, who begot himself and "shaped his limbs" ere he fashioned the Universe, while another section perpetuated the idea of a Creatrix who gave birth to all things. At the dawn of history these rival conceptions existed side by side, and they were perpetuated until the end. It is evident, too, that the theologies which were based on these fundamental ideas had undergone, ere the fusion of peoples occurred, a sufficiently prolonged process of separate development to give them a racial, or, at any rate, a geographical significance. As much is suggested by the divergent ideas which obtained regarding the world. One section, for instance, had conceived of land surrounded by sky-supporting mountains, peopled by gods and giants, round which the sun ass
galloped to escape the night serpent; another section believed that the world was embraced by the "Great Circle"--Ocean--and that the Nile flowed from sea to sea; a third conception was of a heavenly and an underground Nile. There were also two Paradises--the Osirian and the Ra (sun god's). Osiris judged men according to their deeds. He was an agricultural deity, and the early system of Egyptian ethics seems to have had its origin in the experiences enshrined in the text: "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap". Admission to the Paradise of the sun cult was secured, on the other hand, by the repetition of magical formulæ. Different beliefs obtained also regarding the mummy. In the Book of the Dead it would appear that the preservation of the body was necessary for the continued existence of the soul. Herodotus, however, was informed that after a period of 3000 years the soul returned to animate the dead frame, and this belief in transmigration of souls is illustrated in the Anpu-Bata story, and is connected with a somewhat similar conception that the soul of a father passed to a son, who thus became "the image of his sire", as Horus was of Osiris, and "husband of his mother".
Of special interest in this connection are the various forms of the archaic chaos-egg myth associated with the gods Ptah, Khnûmû, Seb, Osiris, and Ra. As the European giant hides his soul in the egg, which is within the duck, which is within the fish, which is within the deer and so on, and Bata hides his soul in the blossom, the bull, and the tree ere he becomes "husband of his mother", so does Osiris "hide his essence in the shrine of Amon", while his manifestations include a tree, the Apis bull, the boar, the goose, and the Oxyrhynchus fish. Similarly when Set was slain he became a "roaring serpent", a hippopotamus, a crocodile, or a boar. The souls of Ra,
Ptah, and Khnûmû are in the chaos egg like two of the prominent Hindu and Chinese gods. Other Egyptian deities who are "hidden" include Amon, Sokar, and Neith. This persistent myth, which appears to have been associated with belief in transmigration of souls, may be traced even in Akhenaton's religion. We have "Shu (atmosphere god) in his Aton (sun disk)", and a reference in the famous hymn to the "air of life" in the "egg". There can be little doubt that the Transmigration theory prevailed at certain periods and in certain localities in ancient Egypt, and that the statement made by Herodotus was well founded, despite attempts to discredit it.
It is shown that the conception of a Creator was associated with that form of earth, air, and water worship which was perpetuated at Memphis, where the presiding Deity was the hammer god Ptah, who resembles the Chinese Pan-ku, Indra of the Aryans, Tarku and Sutekh of Asia Minor, Hercules, Thor, &c. The Creatrix, on the other hand, was more closely associated with lunar, earth, and water worship, and appears to have been the principal Deity of the Mediterranean race which spread into Asia Minor and Europe. In Scotland, for instance, as we show, she is called Cailleach Bheur, and, like other archaic tribal deities and ghosts, she was the enemy of mankind. Similarly the Egyptian goddesses Sekhet and Hathor were destroyers, and Tefnut was goddess of plagues. Even the sun god Ra "produced calamity after thy (Osiris's) heart", as one of the late temple chants puts it.
In the chapter dealing with animal worship the racial aspect of early beliefs, which were connected with fixed and definite ceremonies, is illustrated in the Horus-Set myth. The "black pig" was Set (the devil) in Egypt, pork was "taboo", and the swineherd was regarded as
"an abomination", and not allowed to enter temples. The Gauls and Achæans, on the other hand, honoured the swineherd and ate pork freely, while in the Teutonic Valhal and the Celtic (Irish) Paradise, swine's flesh was the reward of heroes. In Scotland, however, the ancient prejudice against pork exists in localities even at the present day, and the devil is the "black pig". Professor Sir John Rhys, in his Celtic Folklore, records that in Wales the black sow of All-Hallows was similarly regarded as the devil. Even in parts of Ireland the hatred of pork still prevails, especially among certain families. This evidence, considered with that afforded by the study of skull forms, suggests that Mediterranean racial ideas may not yet be wholly extinct in our own country." Strange to say," writes Mr. R. N. Bradley, in his recent work on Malta and the Mediterranean Race, "it is in these lands remote from the origin that some of the best indications of the (Mediterranean) race are to be found." The Gaulish treatment of the boar appears to be Asiatic. Brahma, in one of the Hindu creation myths, assumes the form of a boar, the "lord of creatures", and tosses up the earth with his tusks from the primordial deep.
Another myth which seems to havoc acquired a remote racial colouring is the particular form of the dragon story which probably radiated from Asia Minor. The hero is represented in Egypt by Horus, with his finger on his lips, in his character as Harpocrates, as the Greeks named this mysterious form of the god. The god Sutekh of Rameses II, as we show, was also a dragon slayer. So was Hercules, who fought with the Hydra, and Thor, who at Ragnarok overcame the Midgard Serpent. Sigurd, Siegfried, the Teutonic heroes, and the Celtic Finn-mac-Coul suck a finger or thumb after slaying the dragon, or one of its forms, and cooking part of it, to
obtain "knowledge" or understand "the language of birds". In an Egyptian folk tale Ahura, after killing the "Deathless Snake", similarly understands "the language of birds, fishes", &c. Harpocrates appears to be the god Horus as the dragon-slaying Sutekh, the imported legend being preserved in the Ahura tale of the Empire period, when Egypt received so many Asiatic immigrants that the facial type changed as the statuary shows. Professor Elliot Smith considers that while the early Egyptian was "the representative of his kinsman the Neolithic European . . . the immigrant population into both Europe and Egypt" represented "two streams of the same Asiatic folk". Racial myths appear to have followed in the tracks of the racial drift.
In our historical narrative the reader is kept in touch with the great civilizations of the Cretans, Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, &c., which influenced and were influenced. by Egypt. Special attention is also devoted to Palestine and the great figures in Biblical narrative--Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nahum, and the notable kings of Israel and Judah. There are numerous quotations from the Old Testament, and especially from the prophets who dealt with the political as well as the religious problems of their times. To students of the Bible this part of the volume should make special appeal. It is impossible to appreciate to the full the power and sagacity of Isaiah's sublime utterances without some knowledge of the history of ancient Egypt.
DONALD A. MACKENZIE.