Home Inspirations Ancient Egypt and the idolisation of Animals

Ancient Egypt and the idolisation of Animals

Nadeen Hossam - Jul 2020

Ancient Egyptians have influenced history and culture since the start of civilisation. From the Pyramids to Papyrus and everything in between, the ancient Egyptian people were known for their unique and extraordinary belief systems and way of living.

Based on polytheistic modes of worship and rituals, their belief system consisted of numerous deities that are believed to control different things in life and the universe. It was not uncommon that many of these deities were personified as beloved animals found in nature.


1. Cats

One of the most popular sacred animal portrayals is the cat. Cats were considered sacred animals and gods, often represented as half cat, half woman, relating to their feminine feline nature. They were considered goddesses of pregnancy, childbirth, fertility, women’s secrets, home, and domesticity. Goddesses like Mafdet and Bastet guarded the Egyptian Pharaoh’s private chambers against snakes and wicked spirits/ animals. Some historians believe that cats mimic the snakes' hiss to scare them away.

Along with snakes, cats were embedded and interwoven into the culture that eventually there was a board game made that combined them both called “elsilim w el ta’ban”. According to Herodotus, when a beloved household cat died their owner shaved their eyebrows as a sign of mourning, and the period it took until the eyebrows grew back was the period of grief over their deceased pets. Some owners even mummified their cats to take them with them to the afterlife.


2. Frogs (Heqet) ​​​​​​

Frogs were often associated with fertility, regeneration and rebirth because most of them were born after the annual flooding of the Nile which was essential for barren lands. Therefore, a frog-goddess was born and worshipped named Heqit, who represented fertility. Heqit was a water goddess who was usually represented as a woman with a frog head.  She was also a symbol of the midwife who ruled conception and birth; thus, Egyptian women wore amulets of frogs as a symbol of wanting a child. 


3. Ibis

The Egyptian Sacred Ibis bird was associated with Thoth the god of wisdom and writing. Toth was represented in the form of a man’s body with a head of an Ibis. Historians believe that he was a patron to scribes who were responsible for the administration of Egypt.

As entitled to veneration animal, the Ibis on death was mummified and put inside a hollow figure, countless burials of mummified Ibis have been discovered at Sakkara, near Memphis the ancient capital of Egypt.


4. Crocodile (Sobek)

Crocodiles were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. The Nile crocodiles were aggressive creatures and would kill numerous individuals. The crocodile was given a celestial status by these individuals with the expectation that worshipping the crocodile god would keep them protected and secure from crocodile assaults. Sobek was considered to be the god of the nile, represented as a crocodile or as a human with a crocodile head. Interestingly enough, Sobek sometimes was considered to be an extension of Horus because Horus took the form of a crocodile in several ancient Egyptian myths. 


5. Cobra (Wadjet)

The cobra was used to protect the pharaohs and Egypt from chaos and evil. Usually it represented the goddess Wadjet, who was a protective deity and the daughter of the sun god, Ra. The cobra is a significant indication of royal formal attire in ancient Egypt. It is generally made of gold found for the most part in the royal garb and even in certain burial sites. It was put on the crown as a symbol of protection for the Pharaoh.

Wadjet is believed to take the form of the cobra on land and having her on the crown of the king would signify her protection from enemies as well as extension of rule of Lower Egypt. During the unification of the country, the cobra was merged with the vulture– the symbol of Upper Egypt’s patron deity, Nekhbet.  Together, the two creatures became unified to protect the pharaoh.

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