The Egyptian God Family Tree
Next, a disclaimer: this family tree isn’t, strictly speaking, historically accurate, because what we think of as The Egyptian Pantheon is really a whole bunch of similar-but-not-identical pantheons which were mostly based in individual cities – Thebes, Heliopolis, Memphis, etc. – and went through a lot of changes over their 3000+ year history. It’s as nice a chart as I could make after smooshing together a bunch of those similar-but-not-identical pantheons into one image, but it also contains at least a half-dozen gods who were in charge of their own version of this pantheon, and a bunch of others who could be related to each other in totally different ways depending on when and where you asked.
And now that I’ve disclaimed historical responsibility, onto What I Know About Those Gods Up There:
Nun is usually more of a place than a person, but he’s person sometimes too. Most ancient Egyptian creation myths involve the first god emerging from a chaotic watery abyss, and depending on the story, Nun either lived in the watery abyss or *was* the watery abyss. There’s also weirder creation myth, from Hermopolis, where Nun and his consort Naunet (which is basically Egyptian for “lady-Nun”) were two of eight frog/snake gods who showed up first and collectively laid an egg which contained Ra.
EDIT: An earlier version of this had Apep listed as Apophis, which was his name in Greek.
Man, it seems like every pantheon has at least one giant snake. And it’s never a nice one, you know? Especially not Apep. He had to be defeated to establish the cosmos itself, and still lurks beyond the edge of the world, ruining stuff. Apep was blamed for more or less everything bad – storms, famines, invasions, earthquakes, etc. He’d mostly spend his days attacking the gods on Ra’s ship, and his nights getting hacked to pieces in the underworld.
I think Aten is totally fascinating. For most of his life he was just a deified version of the sun, and was considered an aspect (which means, in this case, something between part and version) of Ra. But that’s before a Pharaoh named Amenhotep IV, who was far too ambitious to settle for the paltry title of God-King. Amenhotep renamed himself Akhenaten, declared Aten the one true god, declared himself to be something like God-King-Pope, and spent the rest of his reign trashing the temples of anyone who disagreed with him.
I should mention here that in general, ancient people were – well, I won’t say religiously tolerant, but there seems to have been a “more the merrier” feel to a lot of pantheons. Like, they’d consider other folks’ gods to be about as real as their own. Inferior, maybe, but real enough. It’s when a group goes from “my god is the best god” to “my god is the only god” that you get problems.
Which probably explains why Akhenaten’s religion more or less died with him.
Ra was the first god, and the first pharaoh of the gods (succeeded by his descendants), so it makes sense that he is one model on which the human pharaoh was based. He rode his boat/sun across the sky during the day and through the underworld at night, constantly fending off attacks by the forces of chaos. A lot of goddesses who were imported from areas to the east of Egypt wound up incorporated in the pantheon as daughters of Ra, I think because the sun rises in the east?
Atum is usually depicted on a throne, sometimes with a ram’s head, and sometimes as an old guy leaning on a staff, and sometimes, as none of the above. He was sort of the original creator god, but over a few thousand years he got replaced by/combined with Ra, who was in turn replaced by/combined with Amun. In ye olden days, the story went that Atum created himself, and then created the next generation of gods, either by spitting or by combining the “divine female creative principle” that dwelt within his hand with the divine male creative principle that dwelt exactly where you’d expect.
I swear that’s his actual hat. Amun started as the patron god of Thebes, and as Thebes became more important to Egypt, so did Amun, until he superseded/merged with Ra as the big king deity of divinity itself, Amun-Ra. That his name means “hiddenness” apparently had no bearing on his ability as a sun god. He (and Ra and Atum and a few others) was considered important enough at some point to be retroactively credited with creating himself and then everything else.
Wife of Amun and mother of all the other gods, according to folks in Thebes. Originally, Amun had another wife named “Amaunet” but that basically means “Lady-Amun” so was probably a placeholder. I don’t think it’s totally clear how we got from there to an independently worshipped Mut, but by around 2000BCE it had happened. She was associated with royalty, childbirth, and motherhood, and, according to one book I read, was sometimes“depicted as a composite deity with outstretched wings, an erect phallus, and three heads — those of a vulture, a lion, and a human.”
Remember when I mentioned Atum’s “divine female creative principle,” aka his hand? Meet “The Hand of Atum,” but one of several innuendo-filled nicknames for Hathor. The “Mistress of the Vagina” was the spiritual mother of the human pharaoh, and his wife was her head priestess. So if you think about it, she’s sort of the spiritual mother *and* wife of the king. She was also the patron goddess of art and drunkenness.
Sekhmet was the fire-breathing lion-headed goddess of war and violence, so it makes sense that most of her worship was about keeping her away. She plays a major role in the Fall of Mankind, a story in which mankind rebells against Ra, and Ra sends Sekhmet to beat ‘em all up, except Sekhmet takes it too far and won’t stop killing everyone and rolling around in the oceans of blood she’s created. So Ra orders thousands of jugs of beer be dyed red and dumped everywhere, and blood-guzzling Sekhmet gets so drunk that she can’t finish driving humanity extinct, the end. I also read another story where Ra was super bummed, so Sekhmet cheered him up by getting naked.
Bastet was a sort of motherly goddess, who took care of pregnant women and young pharaohs and guided dead people in the underworld. If you see a mummified cat in a museum, it probably has something to do with her.
A goddess of divine law and justice. But more than that, she, and the concept from which she got her name, represented the right order of the cosmos – truth, justice, health, prosperity, harmony, and general goodness. Sometimes she’s portrayed as judging the dead by weighing their hearts against a feather. If the heart was lighter, they’d get into the blessed realm of Osiris; if the heart was heavier, they’d get eaten by a monster and cease to exist.
Shu was the god of the air between the earth and the sky, and roughly translates as “emptiness.” At some point he discovered that his children were falling in love with each other (not unlike their parents did). He hated the idea so much that he forced them apart, holding Geb down and Nut up, which is how we ended up with the air between the earth and the sky, and also how we ended up with so many fantastic paintings of this. You know, I think this is the first time I’ve ever read of a god disapproving of incest.
Lioness-headed consort of Shu, and that’s about all we know. Which is surprising, because she seems to have been a pretty big deal once upon a time.
You might notice that I drew Khonsu with a side-ponytail. It’s called the Sidelock of Youth, and denotes youth in ancient Egyptian art. Khonsu was originally a violent cannibalistic god who would absorb other gods’ powers but eating their organs, but over a couple thousand years he was changed into a much more mellow god of time, measurement, and prosperity.
A god of primeval permanence and creativity – matter and form, basically, in their most pure sense. He was the patron god of Memphis, and created himself from nothing in the beginning of time, and then spoke the names of the other gods to create them. If this is sounding familiar, it’s because half the gods in this pantheon so far were the creators and/or heads of some city’s version of this pantheon. Ptah is also the one who created humanity by scultping them at a potters’ wheel, although in some traditions Khnum did that instead.
A Canaanite sex-goddess who was incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon and became pretty popular. She’s usually depicted with lotus flowers in one hand and a snake in the other, and usually looks a lot less bashful than I’ve drawn her here.
A Canaanite god of plague and war who, like Qadesh, was later incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon.
A hippo-goddess who, like the actual hippos she’s based on, is totally ferocious in protecting her young. She’s also frequently depicted with lion paws, an alligator tail, and saggy, saggy boobs.
Bes is an interesting one. Where most deities in ancient Egypt were depicted young, beautiful, and sideways, Bes is pretty much always the front-view of a fat little naked man with a beard. He seems to have started as a minor figure who’d scare of demons, but over a few thousand years attained widespread veneration as a protector of homes and a god of fun things in general. One source I read suggested he might have been initially modeled after the front view of a male lion.
Imhotep is a deified human – how cool is that? The actual, historical Imhotep lived during the third millennium BCE, and was an advisor to the Pharaoh, a priest of Ptah, the architect behind the first pyramid, and apparently enough of a medical genius that within a few centuries of his death, he’d been combined in the public mind with a few other legends and was worshipped as a god of medicine and healers.
A god of beauty and perfumes. He was born from a lotus flower, and is usually depicted with one on his head.
A god of the earth, or literally was the earth, depending on the source. Oh, and I wrote in my notes that “incestuous dreams dashed. Oceans = his tears.” See the entry under Shu for the rest of that story.
A goddess of the sky, or literally was the sky, depending on the source. Geb’s counterpart in the almost-incest story – see the entry under Shu for more details on that. According to one telling she would swallow the sun every night and give birth to it every morning, but I had no idea how to represent that on the chart so I didn’t.
A lesser-known angry baboon god who I drew here mostly because I think he’s funny. There was a period way, way back when early Egyptians thought of baboons as their deceased ancestors, so Babi was associated with the afterlife.
Have you ever heard the word “ithyphallic?” I hadn’t ether. It’s an adjective used to describe statues and religious icons that have erections, and Min is a prime example. He’s a god of male fertility who is almost always depicted with one hand in the air and the other around his, ahem, ithyphallus. Ancient Egyptian men would sometimes wear his amulets for the ancient-Egytpain equivalent of date-night. He was also associated with a certain kind of lettuce that has a distinctive white sap.
Wise, magical, and exceptionally cunning, Isis was one of the most important goddesses in the whole pantheon. She represented the Egyptian ideal of femininity. She’s the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus, which makes her the symbolic mother of all pharaohs. Her name means “throne,” and she is frequently depicted with a symbol for a throne above her head.
Osiris inherited his kingship from Geb, who inherited it from Shu, who inherited it from the first-ever-god (who might be several different gods depending on which tradition you’re reading about). But he didn’t last long, because his brother Set killed him, and dismembered him, and for good measure scattered his body across Egypt. And since Osiris didn’t have a son, that made Set pharaoh. This is when Isis, in her grief, collected all the Osiris-pieces and used her magic to resurrect him just long enough to get her pregnant. But it magic only lasts so long and he died again, this time to unlive out the rest of his undays in the underworld as the chief deity of the afterlife. I might as well mention that this is the only pantheon I’ve heard of with stitched-together-zombie-sex.
Nephthys was Seth’s wife, who turned against him around the time literally everyone else turned against him. Paintings of her are almost painfully boring. They just paint a nondescript woman with her name on top.
Ok, before you ask, Set’s head doesn’t look like an actual animal because Set has the head of, literally, the Set Animal, which is a sort of black-skinned, square-eared, curvy-snouted dog-thing that only appears in Egyptian mythology. Set was so transgressive that he wasn’t even a normal animal. He was strong, belligerent, short-tempered, and mean, and was the chief god of crime, illness, storms, droughts, plagues, and foreign lands. ancient Egyptians weren’t big on willfulness or introversion or individualism, and Set was all of those, too. But for all that, he did a pretty good job defending the realm during his stint as pharaoh (even if he only got the job by killing his brother). Think of Set as the god of necessary evils – mean, threatening, dangerous, but useful if put toward the right purpose.
Horus is the reigning pharaoh of the gods. Every human pharaoh is an incarnation of him. The story goes that after his mom got pregnant with him (via zombie-Osiris), he was born and grew in secret while usurper uncle Set sat on the throne. Once he was old enough, he confronted Set and demanded his kingdom. Set countered that Horus is young and inexperienced, and challenged him to prove himself a more capable leader in a series of contests, but Horus won them all, proving that he’s both the rightful king and totally better at everything than Set anyway. And since all human pharaohs are incarnations of Horus, they’re also both the rightful kings and totally better at it than anyone else anyway.
Anubis is an awesome-looking god of embalming and mummification who was worshipped pretty widely before being gradually superseded in that role by Osiris. But here’s something interesting I found: when Egypt was ruled by Greek pharaohs in 250-30 BCE, Anubis was merged with Hermes to become HERMANUBIS.
Bull god of vigor and strength, considered to be the son (and/or a messenger) of Ptah. In Memphis, they used an actual black bull to represent Apis, which was chosen based on strict criteria including “is there a white triangle on its forehead,” “do the splotches on its back look anything like wings,” and “does it have a beetle-sized lump under its tongue?” If a bull passed, it got to live out its life in luxury, on a private pasture, with a whole harem of cows, until age 25 when it was killed and given a giant funeral and they’d start searching for a replacement. I read somewhere that the pharaoh would use the thrusting power of Apis’s penis to ascend to the sky after death.
Khepri was the god of the rising sun, which would roll along the sky like a beetle rolls a ball of dung. He was depicted with a beetle for a head.
Hapy is usually depicted as a fat blue man with pendulous breasts, carrying lots of plants and food. He was the god who caused the yearly floods of the Nile, which was a way bigger deal than it might sound because it was downright essential to the agriculture of the region.
God of the moon, and since calendars were based on the moon, he was also the god of writing, math, record-keeping, scribes, and scholars. He invented writing and mediated disputes. There’s also a story where Set accidentally eats lettuce that Horus “just happened” to have left sperm on, and becomes pregnant, and then Thoth is born from his forehead.
EDIT: It occurs to me that I should maybe give this one a little more explanation. The story takes place during the contests between Horus and Set over who should be pharaoh. One night, while those are taking place, the two wind up sleeping together and Set sort of dominates Horus, but Horus catches the sperm in his hand and throws it away with the help of his magical mother Isis. For revenge, Horus goes into a garden and “fertilizes” a bunch of Set’s favorite lettuce, leaving Set none the wiser. Soon after, Set goes bragging that he’s done the “work of a man” on Horus, which Horus denies, so one of the gods calls for their semen, and Set’s answers from a swamp, and Horus’s answers from inside Set. And then a glowing disc emerges from Set’s head and that disc is Thoth (or something like that). There’s another, more common telling where an already-existent Thoth merely takes the Set-semen-head-disc, but I went with the other version because I thought it was funnier.
Honestly, my favorite thing about Seshat is her leopard-skin dress. Her name literally means “female scribe” and she’s a goddess of more or less everything related to writing.
Neith was sort of the female counterpart of Nun. Sometimes she was said to have started everything, but not as often as the sun gods. She also, apparently, invented birth itself, and weaving, which made mummification possible. She was also associated with bows and arrows. During the contests between Horus and Seth, she warns that if Seth doesn’t do what she says, or she’ll make the sky fall, and while I assume she meant it literally, I like to imagine it more like that scene from Hero.
A ram-headed god of earth and water and craftsmanship, who (depending on the version you read) created humankind on a potters wheel.
Satet was one of several gods of the annual flooding of the Nile river, which was incredibly important for ancient Egyptian agriculture.
So, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but for most of its history, ancient Egypt was actually two kingdoms, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, which were somewhat confusingly located in the south and north, respectively, because their names actually refer to their elevation – Lower Egypt was in the lowlands near the Mediterranean, while Upper Egypt was further inland. Wadjet was the goddess and protector of Lower Egypt.
And Nekhbet was the Wadjet-equivalent for Upper Egypt.
Serket was a healer goddess who protected her devotees from poison. She’s usually depicted as a woman with a legless, clawless, stingless scorpion on her head, because she renders scorpion poison harmless, but I drew her with a legged, clawed, stingered scorpion instead because when I tried the alternative it looked like a shrimp.
Anuket, like Satet, was a goddess of the Nile. She also wears a pretty groovy headdress.
And that’s it! Or at least, that’s it for the gods I drew. There were plenty more I didn’t bother with because they were minor, or only worshipped in one town, or were just another god by a second name. If I missed one you really wanted to see, or made some horrible mistake, please let me know at VeritableHokum@gmail.com.