Throughout history, every civilisation has tried to explain the unexplainable and provide reason for different aspects of life, nature, and the universe. Many societies did this through legends of ancient gods who controlled seasons, elements, and even love.
Since many civilisations created tales of ancient gods and goddesses who controlled aspects of the world, and some societies have tens or even hundreds of these deities, it can be difficult to keep track of them all!
In this article, we’ll examine the most popular ancient gods from 4 civilisations: the Celts, the Greeks, the Norse, and the Egyptians. We are delving into their history, powers, and impacts on their civilisations’ cultures.
Scroll down to read through the list of ancient gods and goddesses, or click on one of the highlighted sections below to jump ahead!
Table of Contents
Ancient Gods: Celtic Deities
The folklore and mythology of the Celts is very multi-faceted. The legends originated from the Celts with Pagan roots, but many of their ancient gods were modified – or left out of history – when Christianity arrived in Ireland.
Scholars have identified over 400 ancient gods and goddesses in Celtic mythology! But, before we can explore some of the most popular deities, it is essential to know what precisely Celtic means. It may sound straightforward, but the definition is debated.
Some scholars define Celtic by the Indo-European language family, which is made of Celtic dialects spoken in regions from Ireland to Romania and across what is now modern Turkey. Others include culture in the definition, claiming that Celtic refers to an ethnic group who share languages, culture, and a commonplace of origin.
There are very few reliable written accounts of Celtic deities. The Celts did not keep a written history, opting instead to pass legends by word of mouth. It wasn’t until Christianity arrived in Ireland that monks began to keep records of Celtic mythology, and as mentioned before, they often left out aspects that weren’t favourable to the Christian faith.
Below, we’ve delved deeper into the stories of a few of the most well-known ancient gods from Celtic mythology:
Manannán mac Lir
Manannán mac Lir is the Irish God of the Sea. In Celtic, Manannán mac Lir means ‘Manannán, Son of the Sea‘. It is alleged that the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, was derived from his name named after this ancient god and that he had a throne on the island.
Manannán mac Lir’s throne extended above the waves of the Irish Sea. He would ride over the waves in his chariot, the Wave-Sweeper, wearing impenetrable armour and carrying an undefeatable sword. He also had an invisibility helmet and a gigantic magic coat, an allegory for the sea.
The coat could change its colours to the different shades of the sea: golden in the sunlight, silver in the moonlight, black as the ocean depths, and white like the crashing waves on the shore.
In Irish history, some men were seen as divine or godly because of their remarkable excellence in particular fields or jobs. Manannán mac Lir was a merchant and a mariner; he was better at sailing the seas than any other man in the Western world. Because of these skills, he was called the God of the Sea by the Irish and British people.
Epona is the Celtic Goddess of the Stable. Her name is derived from the ancient Irish language, with Epos meaning ‘horse‘ and -Ona meaning ‘on‘. Epona is often depicted riding sidesaddle on a horse. Other artworks portray her holding fruits or a cornucopia, associating her with a Mother Goddess.
Historians have found written tales and artistic works depicting Epona across the world. Although the ancient goddess is mainly associated with Ireland, inscriptions have been found in Spain, the Balkans, England, and Italy. Epona was introduced in Rome during imperial times and was referred to as Augusta.
The Romans would celebrate Augusta during annual festivals. Her image would be added to shrines placed in their stables. The shrines were decorated with colourful flowers. Epona is similar to the Gaulish goddess Rhiannon, who represented horses, forgiveness, rebirth, the moon, and fertility.
Lugh was the most worshipped of the ancient Celtic gods, particularly by the Gauls, a group of Celtic people from mainland Europe during the Iron Age and the Roman times. Lugh is the God of the Sun and Storms, a powerful deity who could influence the weather on land and at sea.
Many ancient people across Europe prayed to Lugh in addition to the civilisations of Ireland and Wales. He was worshipped in Rome as Mercurius, and the people of Belgium built statues dedicated to the ancient god. His statues often depicted him with three faces or heads, as the number was believed to bring good fortune.
The Roman dictator Julius Caesar described Lugh, or Mercurius, as the inventor of all arts. The ancient god’s skills in different arts made him very respected. In fact, many Romans even believed praying to Lugh would aid them in business transactions and trading.
Danu is the Celtic Goddess of Nature and Fertility. Alternative spellings of her name include Anann, Anand, and Dana. She was worshipped throughout the continent, from Ireland to Eastern Europe. Danu was associated with abundance and prosperity and was sometimes referred to as ‘The Mother of the Gods‘.
The ancient goddess Danu is best recognised for the Túatha Dé Danaan, which translates to ‘The People of Goddess Danu‘. The Túatha Dé Danaan were a group of Celtic gods and goddesses exiled from Ireland. Danu offered them her protection if they would return; they lived under her care as they mended their strength and honed their skills.
In Irish mythology, Danu does not often appear by herself. Instead, she appears in minor roles to assist other ancient gods. It is believed that stories centred on the goddess once existed but that none survived when Christianity rewrote the Celtic legends.
Morrigan is the Irish Celtic Goddess of Battle and a member of the Túatha Dé Danaan. She appears as either a single ancient goddess or a triple goddess of three sisters. The trio of goddesses, collectively called The Morrigan, include Badb, Macha, and Morrigan herself.
One of The Morrigan’s most well-known powers was the ability to shapeshift. The ancient goddess was often associated with crows and ravens, as she was known to take their forms and fly over battlefields. Morrigan’s presence was an omen of death; she would assist fallen warriors in their journey to the afterlife once the battle was over.
In Celtic legends, Morrigan offered her love to Cú Chulainn, a warrior and the demi-god son of Lugh, but he rejected her advances. She was angered by his dismissal and vowed to hinder him in his next battle. When he was slain, Morrigan shifted into a crow and landed on his corpse.
Morrigan was also commonly referred to as ‘The Washer at the Ford‘. She was believed to wash armour in nearby rivers, and if a soldier saw her washing his, it meant he would die in the following battle. Many people also thought winning The Morrigan’s favour would help their side claim victory. Despite her association with death, Morrigan is not an evil or malevolent goddess.
Teutates is another popular ancient god from Celtic mythology. Teutates is the God of the Tribe (or People); his name comes from the Irish word toutā, meaning ‘nation‘ or ‘tribe‘. Works relating to him have been found across Europe, including in Germany, England, France, and Austria, among other countries.
Written works found throughout Gaul, such as poems and inscriptions, have mentioned ancient civilisations making human sacrifices to Teutates. Many ancient gods across civilisations received human sacrifices. The works stated that those who were sacrificed to Teutates were killed by drowning.
It is common for ancient gods to be compared or likened to similar deities from other ancient mythologies. Teutates was seen as comparable to the Roman gods Mercury and Mars, who are associated with the Greek gods Hermes and Ares, respectively.
Dagda is the Celtic God of Agriculture and Wisdom. He is one of the most important ancient gods in Irish mythology and is the father of all the other Irish gods and goddesses. Dagda was a member of the Túatha Dé Danaan, and his name translates to ‘Good God‘.
The ancient god Dagda had a plethora of divine abilities. He had the power to control life and death, as well as the power of resurrection. Yet, even though he was incredibly powerful, he was known best for his strength, wisdom, and love of the arts.
Dagda is often described as a large, tall man of tremendous strength. Unlike other ancient gods and goddesses who were described as beautiful, however, Dagda is almost always depicted with his face covered by his hooded cloak. The only description of his facial features is that he wore a large, bushy beard.
When Dagda returned to Ireland with the Túatha Dé Danaan, he brought with him three important objects: a club, a harb, and a cauldron. His magical club was the most powerful weapon among the ancient gods. One end was responsible for killing his enemies, and the other had the power to resurrect the dead.
Dagda’s harp was also magical; it played itself. The harp’s music could change the seasons and control people’s emotions. One of the earliest legends in Celtic mythology tells of Dagda’s harp being stolen and his journey to retrieve it.
The third object, Dagda’s cauldron, provided an endless food source. No matter how much he took from the cauldron, it never ran empty. The cauldron provided infinite nourishment to the ancient gods in the forms of fruit and swine.
Belenus was the ancient Celtic God of Fire. His name is derived from the Irish root -Belen, which means ‘brilliant‘ or ‘shining‘. Belenus is associated with the sun, light, fertility, and healing. He was worshipped throughout the Gauls and by the ancient Britons.
It was believed that Belenus could provide physical and spiritual healing, restoring the vitality and well-being of those who had his grace. Additionally, the ancient god represented fertility and abundance. The Celts prayed to Belenus to bless their crops, land, and livestock with the light and warmth of the sun.
Each year, the ancient civilisations would have festivals and celebrations dedicated to Belenus. One of the most well-known festivals is Beltane, traditionally held on 1 May to celebrate the beginning of summer. Bonfires were lit during this festival in hopes that they would bring good fortune and a plentiful harvest.
Belenus is pictured on a bronze coin dating back to the 1st century CE. The coin was minted by Cunobeline, the chief of the Trinovantes, one of the Celtic tribes. On the other side of the coin is a picture of a boar, which symbolised power, sovereignty, hunting, and hospitality to the Celts.
Ancient Gods: Greek Deities
The ancient Greeks believed in the existence of numerous gods and goddesses that controlled different aspects of nature and the universe. To win the favour of these ancient gods, the Greeks would perform rituals and sacrifices. Many legends surrounding these rituals have helped shape our knowledge of Greek mythology.
Greek deities personified every aspect of the world, natural and cultural. In Greek mythology, we can find Gods and Goddesses of the Sky, Wisdom, the Hunt, and Marriage, among others. The Greeks offered sacrifices to the gods in exchange for their divine support in war and times of crisis.
From the act of sacrificing for aid from the ancient gods, we can conclude that there was a hierarchy of power in ancient Greece. The ancient gods and goddesses were worshipped above all else, and mortals were seen as less powerful and important than the deities. It was not possible for a mortal to rise to the high status of the gods.
Although there is no definite set of principles or written dogma for the beliefs of ancient Greek mythology, there are sacred and reputable written works we can learn from. These works include inscriptions, instructions to reach the afterlife, hymns, oracles, and epics.
We’ve used these written works to examine some of the most well-known ancient gods and goddesses in Greek mythology:
Aphrodite, one of the most well-known ancient goddesses, is the ancient Greek deity of love, fertility, victory and beauty. Symbols of Aphrodite include the dove, swan, and roses, representing peace, love, and prosperity.
According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and his partner Dione. The ancient goddess has appeared in many works of literature, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. In the Iliad, Aphrodite’s feud with Athena and Hera, known as the Judgement of Paris, incited the Trojan War and led to the founding of Rome.
Aphrodite was an inspiration for many artworks. In early Greek art, statues were made portraying her great beauty. The most famous of these statues is the Venus of Knidos by Praxiteles. The most faithful copy of the sculpture can be seen in the Vatican.
Zeus is the supreme deity in Greek mythology and the King of the Olympian gods. Known as the ancient God of the Sky, his throne is on top of Mount Olympus. Zeus is often equated to Jupiter, the Roman God of the Sky.
Besides controlling the weather, Zeus offered signs and omens to the mortals below Mount Olympus. He used his power and status to maintain justice among gods and mortals. His traditional weapon was the thunderbolt, which could be used on Mount Olympus and the Earth below.
Zeus was the son of Cronus, King of Titans, and his wife Rhea. A Cretan myth entailed that Cronus knew one of his children was destined to dethrone him, so he swallowed his children right after they were born. Zeus’ older siblings included Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon.
Rhea, Cronus’ wife, managed to save her youngest child, Zeus, by switching the newborn with a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Cronus fell for her trick and swallowed the stone, while Rhea hid Zeus in a cave on the island of Crete.
After Zeus grew up, he dethroned Cronus, fulfilling the prophecy that his father tried so hard to avoid. He overthrew his father by leading a revolt against the Titans. When Zeus took the throne, he forced Cronus to bring back his siblings and divided the responsibilities of ruling Greece between them. Zeus controlled the overworld, Poseidon dominated the seas, and Hades ruled the underworld.
Zeus had many children in Greek mythology. Although he was married to Hera, the ancient god had many extramarital affairs; many of his children did not share the same mothers. Some of his children were born in unusual ways:
- Athena, Zeus’ favourite child, was born from his head.
- Dionysos was born from Zeus’ thigh after his mother, Semele, died prematurely.
Apollo is one of the most complex ancient gods in Greek mythology. He was the God of Prophecy, Music, Art, Archery, and Medicine. With so many titles, he must have been very busy! Apollo is the only ancient god who has the same name in both Roman and Greek mythology.
Apollo is the son of Zeus and the titan Leto. He was born on the Greek island of Delos, along with his twin sister Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt. Apollo and his sister both shared a natural talent for archery.
Apollo was the leader of the Muses and director of the choir, also known as Apollon Musegetes. The ancient god Hermes created the lyre for Apollo, which became a known symbol for him. Hymns that were sung to Apollo were called Paeans. Paeans are choral lyrics of invocation, joy, or triumph sung to honour Apollo at festivals and funerals.
Apollo is often referred to as “The Healer” as he was the one who taught medicine to mortal men. It was believed that Apollo, who was the God of both Medicine and Plague, could heal people as well as cause diseases by shooting them with his arrows.
Apollo had many love affairs throughout Greek mythology, but most of them ended in disaster. Daphne was a Naiad Nymph, the daughter of a river god. She was famous for her incredible beauty and for being determined to remain untouched by a man for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, she caught the attention and desire of Apollo.
Greek mythology tells the tale of Apollo mocking Eros, the God of Love commonly known as Cupid. To get his revenge, Eros struck Apollo with a gold arrow, which made him fall in love with Daphne. Then, he struck Daphne with a lead arrow that made her hate Apollo.
Eros is the Greek God of Love. He first appears as part of the first generation of ancient gods. Ancient Greek primordial gods include Chaos, Nyx, Erebus, and Tartarus, among others. In later legends, Eros is described as being the son of Aphrodite.
Eros’s representation in art evolves more than any other ancient god from Greece. In ancient texts, he was described as a strong and handsome man. In Alexandrian poetry, he is described as a mischievous child known for causing trouble. In Archaic art, he was represented as a beautiful winged youth. His depictions kept getting younger until, by the Hellenistic period, he was portrayed as an infant.
Many scholars believe that the evolution of Eros throughout history was caused by his change in status from a primordial god to the son of Aphrodite. Eros went from being seen as one of the universe’s first ancient gods and rulers to a reckless child.
Artemis is the ancient Greek Goddess of the Hunt, Wild Animals, Vegetation, and the Moon. Artemis is the daughter of Zeus, the king of gods, and Leto, the Titan. She is Apollo’s twin sister. The ancient goddess is often depicted as a beautiful huntress carrying a bow and arrow.
Artemis vowed to never marry and was often used as a complete contrast to Aphrodite in art and written works. However, she still caught the attention of many suitors, both ancient gods and mortal men. Artemis fell in love with Orion, a giant huntsmen. However, true to her vow, she never married him.
One ancient Greek legend tells the story of how Apollo, Artemis’ twin brother, feared for her maidenhood as the goddess grew closer to Orion. He tricked Artemis into killing Orion with her bow and arrow to prevent her from breaking her vow.
Artemis was devastated and distraught once she realised what she had done; her own hands caused the death of her only love. To immortalise Orion, she placed his body in the sky among the stars. Those in the Northern Hemisphere can often see his constellation: Orion’s Belt.
Athena, one of the most well-known ancient gods, was the Greek Goddess of War, Handicraft, and Reason. She is commonly depicted in stories of war, where her rationality, logic, and aptitude for strategy greatly benefit her against the impulsiveness of her siblings.
The origin story of Athena is an unusual tale, even for ancient Greek mythology. The goddess was born from her father Zeus’ head. She was born fully grown and wearing her armour. Across multiple legends, it is stated that Athena is Zeus’ favourite child, possibly because of her unique birth.
Other stories tell a different tale of Athena’s entry to Mount Olympus. One version states that she is actually the daughter of Metis, a Titan Goddess. The legend says that Zeus swallowed Metis while she was pregnant, which is why Athena was born from his head.
Although Atlas was not an ancient god, he is an important figure from Ancient Egyptian mythology. Atlas was a Titan, one of the pre-olympian rulers who controlled the universe before the gods came to Mount Olympus.
Atlas fought alongside other Titans in the Titanomachy War. The war was fought between them and the Olympians, who would become the ancient gods we know today. When the Titans suffered defeat, Zeus bestowed a punishment upon Atlas; he was condemned to hold the weight of the Heavens and Earth on his shoulders for the rest of his days.
In works of art dating back to the 6th century BCE, Atlas is represented as carrying the Heavens. In pieces of Hellenistic and Roman art, the Titan is depicted as a bearded man struggling to carry a celestial globe on his shoulders. The globe is often detailed with constellations and stars representing ancient Greek legends.
Ancient Gods: Norse Deities
Norse, also known as Germanic, mythology is a group of stories and beliefs about ancient gods and the nature of the cosmos. This mythology was developed by the Germanic-speaking peoples across Europe before their conversion to Christianity.
The Vikings’ sea trade, explorations, and conquests played a significant role in the spread of Norse myths. Their stories reached from Constantinople in the East to Iceland in the West. Norse gods and goddesses also belong to Scandinavian mythology. It focuses on a family of pre-Christian gods worshipped by Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, and Danes.
Heroic tales of these ancient gods were spread widely across Europe. Some of the more recognisable deities from Norse mythology include Thor, Frey, and Odin, a one-eyed chief king who wisely led his people.
Unlike Celtic mythology, the Germanic people made it a point to write down their legends and stories. The tales of gods and goddesses who ruled the cosmos survived in the form of verbal narratives as well as ancient texts of verse and prose.
Although many people believe that Norse mythology and its deities vanished with the emergence of Christianity, this is not completely true. Some Germanic people continued secretly worshipping the ancient gods and goddesses and only pretended to follow the Christian faith in public. Even to this day, there are people in Denmark who still believe in the Norse gods.
In modern celebrations and festivals dedicated to the deities, groups meet in open spaces, similar to how Vikings would. The festivals involve presenting offerings to the gods and making toasts for prosperity and a good harvest. Some people even pray for fertility or to find eternal love.
According to Germanic mythology, Odin is a Norse deity who held the highest status among the other ancient gods, goddesses, and mortals. He ruled over the universe and had a throne at the highest point of Asgard. Asgard is akin to Mount Olympus in Greek mythology.
Odin was known for being unprecedentedly intelligent. He was the leader and protector of the Norse princes, heroes, and people. Odin watched over the world from his divine throne, Hlidskjalf, which allowed him to see and hear all that was occurring below him.
He was known to keep two wolves by his side: Geri and Freki. The wolves were sacred to Odin, and he trusted their instincts. Odin also owned two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who would fly around Asgard and report back with news of daily events. Hugin and Munin represent Memory and Thought, as their respective names translate to the words in the Norse language.
Odin continuously aimed to increase his wisdom and intelligence. One legend tells of Odin requesting to drink from Mimir’s well, a source of limitless knowledge and understanding. Mimir required a sacrifice from the god before he could drink, so Odin willingly plucked out his right eye in exchange.
Another tale weaves a different story of Odin and Mimir’s relationship. Mimir was a God of Wisdom and the leader of the Aesir tribe. While the tribe was at war with the Vanir, a rival tribe, Mimir was beheaded, and his head was sent back to his men. It is said that Odin preserved the severed head and carried it around with him.
The head is believed to whisper secret knowledge and provide counsel to Odin, explaining how he acquired his vast knowledge and wisdom.
Thor is one of the most well-known Norse gods. He was the God of Thunder and was regarded as a champion among the other ancient gods due to his unmatched courage and strength. Thor was worshipped widely throughout the Scandinavian World. Today, he is most commonly known for his character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thor wielded a very powerful weapon, a hammer called Mjölnir. The hammer was forged by dwarven blacksmiths deep within the earth. It was crafted to be thrown like a boomerang and would always return to Thor’s hand after being thrown. Mjölnir was one of the strongest weapons in the universe and represented the thunderbolt.
Thor was a great warrior known for his mighty strength and hostility towards giants. Giants were a harmful race and were seen as enemies to the ancient gods of Norse mythology. However, Thor was not always hostile. He was benevolent to humans and is even seen aiding them in some stories.
The God of Thunder is often portrayed as a middle-aged man with a red beard and a muscular build. Thor was the son of Odin and was sometimes described as a secondary, lesser character compared to him. There are stories where Thor acts as the main focus, but they are not as common. He is comparable to the Roman god Jupiter.
One of the most famous legends surrounding Thor perfectly showcases his relationship with the giants. Thor went fishing with Hymir, a giant, to catch something for breakfast. Hymir was successful and caught two whales. Not willing to be one-upped by the giant, Thor fished until he caught Jörmungandr, the serpent that orbits Earth.
Thor began dragging the serpent onboard the boat to clean it, but the massive beast’s weight was causing the boat to sink. Hymir cut Thor’s fishing line, saving the ship but allowing Jörmungandr to get away. Thor was engulfed in rage and incited a furious battle between him and the giant. In the end, Thor threw Hymir overboard, stole his whales, and returned back to shore without him.
Frej was a God of Fertility originating from Norse mythology. He was worshipped throughout the region, including in areas of Swedish, Germanic, and Icelandic people. They prayed to Frej from the Viking period, approximately 700CE, until the emergency of Christianity.
Although many people worshipped Frej, no surviving temples or shrines dedicated to the ancient god have been found during excavations or research. These structures are believed to have been built in current-day Sweden and Norway, but unfortunately, no proof has been recovered.
Frej belonged to the Vanir tribe, a race of Norse gods who battled against Aesir but later reconciled their differences. The tribe lived in Asgard and is known for beheading Mimir, as mentioned previously. Frej was the son of Njörd and the twin brother of Freyja. He symbolised fertility, prosperity, and peace.
Frej was the personification of summer. According to legends, the fairies and elves of Asgard loved Frej, for he was strong and bright like the sun. Frej was also a skilled warrior. His father, Njörd, appointed him to prevent the Dwarfs of Svartheim from returning to Asgard and interfering with the gods after Odin had banished them.
Freyja was the twin sister of Frej and daughter of Njörd. She was a Goddess of Fertility and Vegetation, similar to her brother. Freyja was worshipped mainly in Sweden and Norway from the Viking period until after the emergence of Christianity in the region.
Like the rest of her family, Freyja was a member of the Vanir tribe. She was known to be one of the most popular deities in Asgard and also represented love, marriage, and prosperity for the mortals. Freyja had the divine gift of prophecy and could predict the future using her staff. According to legend, she was the one who taught Odin how to tell the future.
Whenever Freyja travelled throughout Asgard, she was pulled in a chariot led by two cats. She had a unique connection with animals, often taking their forms. She roamed the nights as a she-goat and was known to take the shape of a falcon. Freyja also often rode a boar with golden bristles named Hildeswin, and she was believed to be able to shed tears of gold.
Njörd is one of the most powerful ancient gods from Norse mythology. He was the God of Wind and the Sea, able to control storms. He was also the father of Frej and Freyja. To the mortals of Asgard, Njörd was regarded as the God of Wealth and Prosperity.
Njörd was a member of the Vanir tribe. During a war between them and their rivals, the Aesir tribe, Njörd was taken as a hostage. After he escaped, he returned to the Vanir and met Skadi, a Gaint. The two ended up married, allowing Skadi to be accepted by the gods despite being a giant.
The marriage was shortlived, however, because giantess Skadi preferred to live by the sea and Skadi preferred to live in her father’s mountain.
Aegir is the Norse God of the Ocean and a member of the Aesir tribe. He controlled the moods and actions of the seas and was responsible for their implications for mariners, sailors, and fishermen. Although he was a god of Asgard, Argir was not related to Odin. Instead, he descended from an older race of ancient gods and goddesses.
Aegir has been depicted in several works of literature. There were references to Saxons sacrificing captives to Aegir in their written histories. Aegir was married to Ran, The Goddess of Death. She symbolised those who died or went missing in the sea. Ran would entangle the sailors in her nets and drag them down to their watery graves.
Ancient Gods: Egyptian Deities
Ancient Egyptian religion and mythology are believed to have begun around 3000 BCE. The legends and beliefs were spread widely throughout Egypt for approximately 3,000 years. Like many other ancient civilisations, Egyptians believed in more than one god. This practice is called polytheism.
The king and the gods were the most essential figures that characterized Ancient Egyptian civilization and culture. The king held the highest status among mortals, only falling second to the ancient gods. The king was responsible for maintaining order among his people and keeping civilisation running smoothly.
The king was also tasked with retaining the gods’ grace and favour. Monuments were constructed with inscriptions depicting the mutual dependence and harmony between the gods and the king. If the gods and the king were not on good terms, bad fortune would soon come to the ancient Egyptians.
The ancient gods of Egyptian mythology were neither all-powerful nor all-knowing, but their powers were much more significant than those of an ordinary human being. Some deities were portrayed in different physical forms; some were even depicted as human-animal hybrids.
Most commonly, gods were described as bulls and falcons, while goddesses were portrayed as cows, vultures, and lionesses. These animals represented the nature of the deities; a goddess could be a lioness when angry, but an average cat when calm.
Some ancient gods were strongly linked to particular animals. This is seen with Khepri, who is connected with the scarab beetle. When depicted as a human-animal hybrid, some gods had animal bodies and human heads, while others were shown with the opposite combination. The most famous example of human-animal hybrids in ancient Egypt is the Sphinx, a human head on a lion’s body.
Aker, also known as Akeru, is a Chthonic (relating to the underworld) Earth God of Passage. This god was worshipped starting from 2700 BCE onward. He was responsible for controlling the interface between the eastern and western horizons of the underworld.
Aker was also the guardian of the gate of the passage through which kings passed to the underworld. He protected the small ship of the sun god on its journey through the underworld at night. In artworks and inscriptions, he was represented by opposite-facing pairs of human or lion heads.
Osiris is one of the Egyptian pantheon’s most widely worshipped ancient gods. Osiris was perceived as the counterpart in the death of the sun god Re. Osiris was only known in his human form and was not associated with any animal.
The priests at Heliopolis tracked his ascendence and discovered that Osiris was born at Rosetau at the necropolis, the gate of the underworld, in Memphis, an ancient capital of Egypt. Osiris was born to Geb and Nut, his parents.
Osiris had three siblings who were also deities of ancient Egypt. Isis, his sister, was a major goddess who played many roles across the legends. She and Osiris were also husband and wife, and she is known for being a guardian, mother, and healer.
Nephthys was Osiris’ other sister and the Goddess of the Air. Set, Osiris’ only brother, was known as the God of Deserts, Disorder, Violence, and Storms. In general, Set was a mischievous god who enjoyed playing tricks and causing trouble.
In ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris had a crucial relationship with the kingship. One legend describes how Set persuaded Osiris to step into a sarcophagus that was exactly his size. After Osiris entered, Set nailed the coffin shut and threw it into the Nile River.
When the sarcophagus washed onto the shores of Lebanon, it became encased in the trunk of a growing tree. The tree was later chopped down and used as a pillar for the local ruler’s palace. Isis, who had been searching for her brother for years, finally found him and hid his body in the nearby reeds.
However, Set noticed his brother’s remains and cut him to pieces. Isis had to find the dismembered pieces of Osiris and put them back together. When she did, she breathed into him and brought him back to life. After she saved him, Isis and Osiris had a son named Horus.
Amun was a chief Theban god, also known as Amen and Ammon. His power grew as Thebes, his city of origin, developed from an unknown village in the Old Kingdom to a powerful capital in the Middle and the New Kingdoms.
Amun rose to become the king of the Theban pharaohs and was eventually combined with the God of the Sun, Ra, who had been the dominant deity of the Old Kingdom. Together, the two became Amun-Ra, the King of the Gods.
Amun’s name means ‘Mysterious Figure’ or ‘Hidden One’; his representation in written works and art throughout history supports the name. He was depicted in a standard human form with a double-plumed crown, and sometimes, he was portrayed as a ram or a goose. The variance in his image adds to his essence of mystery and the unknown.
Amun’s chief temple was Karnak, but he was also worshipped throughout Nubia, Ethiopia, Libya, and much of Palestine. In Greek mythology, Amun was thought to be an Egyptian manifestation of the Greek god Zeus.
He was believed to be so powerful that even Alexander the Great thought it was worthwhile to consult the oracle of Amun.
Anubis is known as the God of Mortuaries, although Osiris later overshadowed him. Anubis commonly appeared in the form of a black dog or jackal, usually in a lying down or crouching position with its ears pricked and long tail hanging. He wore a collar with magical connotations. Less often, Anubis appeared in human form with a canine head.
The portrayal of a dog for Anubis most likely originated from observing bodies being removed from shallow graves. Anubis had a great desire to protect them from such a horrible fate and manifested himself as the creature.
His main concern was with the funerary cult and the care of the dead. Anubis was credited for the invention of embalming or mummification, which is the art of preserving the bodies of Pharohs after their deaths. Mummification was practised widely throughout ancient Egypt.
Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris. He was also known to be the mortal enemy of Set, who killed his father. Horus was worshipped all over Egypt, especially in Edfu, where his temple is located and still stands today.
Horus is typically represented as a glorious hawk or a human with a hawk’s head. Sometimes, he is shown as a young child sitting on his mother’s lap, relating him to his mother and the lack of a father figure in his life.
Another common portrayal of Horus is the “Eye of Horus“. Horus’s eyes were said to be the sun and the moon until later, when he became more strongly associated with the sun and the god of the sun, Ra. The Eye of Horus symbolised health, protection, and restoration.
The Eye of Horus was mentioned in Egyptian legends as being lost during a battle between Set and Horus, then being restored by Hathor.
Isis was a well-known goddess, the sister and wife of Osiris, and the mother of Horus. She was portrayed as a giver of life, a healer, a mother, and the protector of kings. Isis was one of the first people to use mummification when she collected the dismembered parts of her brother’s body.
Isis was also an enchantress; she brought Osiris back to life and impregnated herself with his son, Horus. Isis is represented in art with a throne on her head and is sometimes shown holding Horus as an infant, symbolising her as the “Mother of God.”
Isis was a good queen who supported her husband, Osiris and taught the women of Egypt many things. She showed them how to weave, bake, and brew beer. To the Egyptians, she symbolised the ideal wife and mother: loving, devoted, and caring.
Some ancient tales claim that Isis was the daughter of Geb, the God of Earth, and the Sky Goddess Nut. She was the sister of Osiris, Seth, and Nephthys, other well-known ancient gods.
There are Many Interesting Ancient Gods Across Civilisations
The ancient gods from early civilisations tell us a lot about their cultures, faiths, and ways of life. Each pantheon, with its unique characteristics and stories, offers a window into the civilizations that worshipped them.
The Celts’ reverence for nature, the Greeks’ exploration of human traits, the Norse’s emphasis on fate and valour, and the Egyptians’ focus on the afterlife collectively highlight a shared human endeavour to understand the universe and our place within it.
The legacies of these mythologies and ancient gods endure, inspiring countless works of art, literature, and philosophical thought. They demonstrate that even as societies evolve, the fascination with the divine and the supernatural remains a constant, uniting aspect of human history.
What do you think of the ancient gods across cultures? Who are your favourites to learn about? Tell us in the comments below!
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