The great creator god of Heliopolis (whoose name can be spelled Re or Ra, see why ) represented "the sun god" in the broad sense of the term, personalising just as much the star as a physical entity, or as the divine strength which is in him. Re is respected and adored in all Egypt and numerous divinities would not have their solar legitimacy were it not for the revitalising functions of Re, and thus Amon-Re, Khnum-Re…
The lioness and the bull are used to show power, danger and fertility bound to the star. Besides, the Mnevis bull, the sacred animal of Re of Heliopolis.
The Horus falcon (the great one or the ancient one), whose name signifies the distant ideally represents the sun at its apogee.
Aton represents the disk as physical entity. He can serve to represent the moon also. He is without doubt
the solar god whom Amenophis IV will call when he wishes to counterbalance the theological influence of the clergy of Amon, and for other reasons (see ).
The different phases of the existence of the sun have well imagined by the Egyptians.
All travel being made via the Nile, Re was imagined by describing his journey as travelling in a barque on a celestial Nile.
With its birth, the sun (as with the deceased) when one sees it leaving of the mountains of the east) is described like a
"young veal at the mouth of milk". Khepri, represented as a scarab, expresses this idea of birth. The beetle pushes before him a ball of clay satisfying his hunger and in which it will lay his eggs. On hatching, the small scarabs seem to emerge from this ball, which the Egyptians immediately associated with the idea of rebirth.
The majestic star in all its power is represented by the falcon in the form of Re-Horakhty whose representation combines the falcon, the solar disk and the Uraeus. It is also Khamutef ("his mother's bull") possessor of all her hereditary vigour.
It is Atum. The creative creator of Heliopolis, whose functions Re exploits, can hardly seem in his position in the image of the ageing star (he is even represented in older times as an old man leaning on a cane). The Egyptians who reasoned in term of eternally renewed cycle, wanted to start it with rebirth while placing at the end of the previous cycle a potentially young and vigorous god.
This aspect has essentially been developed during the New Empire. The Egyptians thought that the land was flat and that the sun disappeared on the horizon each evening. Re then changed his means of transportation and boarded the barque of the night which travelled on the underground Nile.
While the world above was in obscurity, the god browsed the twelve hours of night in the underground world (the duat), giving benefit to its inhabitants by his light and his heat. Those here fell again in lethargy when the star left them.
In this journey, Re is often represented as a character with the head of a ram (Iuf), representing the fusion of the ba of Re and the one of the god of the dead. This fusion is theologically very important since it can make of Re a funerary god and make Osiris absorb the solar functions. One thus finds in the tomb of Nefertari the formulae:
"Osiris resides in Re and Re resides in Osiris". It is also said that Osiris is "yesterday" and Re is "tomorrow".
The nocturnal journey was perilous, the forces of chaos embodied by Apophis trying without relaxation to reverse the barque. The sunrise in the morning translated the triumph of the organising forces over the chaos, the victory of . Therefore, for the Egyptians, every day is like a new creation of the world which is not returned to the chaos of its origin.
The modern science noted this permanent tendency of organised towards the unorganised and christened this phenomenon 'entropy'… Only the name changes, but nothing more is understood about the essence of the process.
The Old Kingdom is the period full of political glory for Re, his influence even remains immense during all the long length of the Pharaonic history.
The first king to incorporate the name of Re is
Neb-j-re ("Re is my Lord"), of the second Dynasty. In the region of Heliopolis-Memphis, in the 5th Dynasty, the opening of solar temples increase. They are centred around a shape of the obelisk representing the primordial hillock: the Benben.
The pyramids represent the most monumental symbol of the solar power.
When one imagines that originally they were covered with Turah limestone as white as snow, visible from scores of kilometres. The rays of the sun petrified, the pyramids are the most spectacular representation of the glory of the kings of Egypt of which the post-mortem destiny at this time was to go up to the sky with their mediator to become a star and to become one with the sun.
From Djedefre (the successor of Kheops, 4th Dynasty), the kings of Egypt take the name of "son of Re" which will be included in the royal titulature until the end of Pharaonic history.
From the 6th Dynasty, Re acquired the stature of true creator god and the other creator gods are syncretically associated with him.
After having become conscious of his being in the undifferentiated chaos of the origins (the Nun), the creator god Atum created the world while starting with light and heat which in the second place will be materialised by the solar disk. Re is thus inseparable from Atum, representing the dynamics of the creation of the world.
Being alone, Atum can only draw from himself, by masturbation or spit, the first sexual couple represented by Shu and Tefnut. Both are the vectors of the material expression of the sun.
Shu represents light and vital breath. It is Shu who constitutes the space between the sky and the land in which the luminous vibration appears, genuine "ether" transporting the solar rays. We can see it depicting itself while looking at the luminous space which one sees when sunbeams filter through clouds (as ).
Tefnut represents the vector of heat (and not of humidity as he had been proposed initially) and also the celestial orbit of the star. Shu is named "Life" and thus the hieroglyphic Ankh sign is the god's symbol.
Tefnut, transporting the dangerous part (the heat) of the star associated with power or represented by the Was sign. She is identified with since she is the cosmic order.
Thus, Shu and Tefnut are inseparable, and even between themselves and the sun, which is sometimes represented showing them in the form of two lions between which is either the sun, or an Akhet sign (which represents the sunrise between two hills). The two pylons of the temples have the same significance.
It gives rise to numerous interpretations which sometimes seem contradictory to us.
It gives rise to numerous interpretations which sometimes seem contradictory to us. Thus, the daughter of the sun is going to personify his eye also. To reign on creation and to dispense light and heat, Re is replaced: it is his eye (which represents him in totality) which provides this function. After numerous adventures, told differently in the "Book of the Celestial Cow" or in the myths concerning the lion-like goddess, the eye ends up returning to his father Re who will restore it in his forehead in the form of the Uraeus.
The solar eye equates to the lunar eye of the young Horus: one will be returned, and the other taken care of by Thot. The two eyes end up merging to form the Udjat.
A composition dating to the New Kingdom, found for the first time in the tomb of Sethy I. Re aged, and it even becoming senile !… Men, create by his tears according to the Heliopolitan theology (a play on the words of Remyt -tears and Remtj -men) rebel against him and take refuge in the desert. To punish them, Re chooses his eye which is also his daughter
Several goddesses called "dangerous" are likely to personify this eye: Sekhmet, Hathor, Tefnut, Ma'at, …
Thus Re declares that he is going to exercise his power (Sekhem) on men and
"this is how Sekhmet occurred". It is again an illustration of these creative word games of which the Egyptians were so fond.
The eye-goddess, in the form of a wild lioness, gains the desert and slaughters the rebellious men. Re does not arrive in time to stop his daughter and fears that all the humanity will perish if she returns in this form to Egypt.
And here it is necessary to remember that the period preceding the flooding is the one where there is a lack of water, the canals are stagnant, and illnesses therefore falls on men more than usual, and mortality increases. But, as always in ancient Egypt, if Sekhmet is the vector of illnesses, she is also the goddess capable of healing them, and most physicians seem to have been priests of Sekhmet.
Thus therefore, to calm the disastrous effects of anger of the wild lioness, one decides to use the ruse: a great deal of beer was tinted in red by the ochre of Elephantine. This liqueur was spilled around the sleepy lioness who, on waking up, takes it for blood and drinks some until intoxicated. Satiated, she abandons her project to kill all men.
This myth conveys in a vivid form an Egyptian explanation of a very real phenomenon: the flooding and its relationship with the geography of the country. For the Egyptian, the desert is a place of chaos, of disorder and those who have taken refuge there are rebels to cosmic order, to Ma'at (nomads, bedouin tribes…).
The eye-lioness represents the burning heat of the star which appears with its maximum destructive effect in the desert, there prohibiting life. The solar radiance must therefore be compensated, balanced by something else before reaching Egypt: the flooding. This occurs here at the moment of full summer when the heat is at its maximum and it enters into Egypt by Elephantine (from a mythical underground cave where the god Khnum holds it under his sandal). Carrying in the beginning of the ferruginous silts, it has a reddish aspect: as the lioness stops her act of destruction after absorption of reddish beer, the potentially deadly heat of the sun is compensated by the rise of the waters.
The lioness doesn't return to Egypt in her dangerous form, she becomes again Hathor the beautiful lady of love and life. So, every year, with the arrival of the rise in water level, the festivals of Hathor take place or one drinks until intoxicated with beer or also with wine (red colour), thus making Hathor the mistress of drunkenness.
Herodotus described these festivals more or less orgiastic.
The goddess thus possesses, like all Egyptian goddesses, a duplicate positive and negative aspect. Here she conjugates solar strength and water.
A specific ritual called "S-htp-skhmt" is implemented. Literally it signifies "Sekhmet's pacified return". In fact, it is necessary to understand that it is necessary to divert the aggressiveness of solar rays which must not exercise themselves in Egypt but remain limited to the desert or repress the enemies of universal order.
She is similar to the precedent. She appears in a later period on the walls of the temples of Nubia (note: that this is the source of flooding for the Egyptian)
For uncertain reasons, the eye of the sun moved away of him. It represents his strength and his heat materialised by one the goddesses called (Hathor, Sekhmet, Tefnut, Ma'at, ..). The goddess in the form of a lioness the regions of the south gained or exercised her devastating strength freely.
Re dreads making her return in spite of his desire because at the same time she represented his strength, his distraction (because the goddess is also his wife) but also a threat if she is uncontrolled.
Shu and Thot are designated to bring back the goddess, a very delicate mission because the ferocious lioness seems little disposed to return.
The two gods transform themselves into small monkeys. They approach the goddess who wants to devour them, but they succeed in convincing her to do no such thing, putting forward that they could be useful one day.
Some time after, the lioness falls in a trap in which the two monkeys deliver her. One recognises here the story which inspired Aesop and La Fontaine's fable "The Lion and the Rat".
The monkeys then convince her to return to Egypt. On arriving at Elephantine, as there is no question of leaving this lioness unchained to enter the country, the monkeys push her in the water of the first cataract and lioness becomes the soft kitten Bastet, goddess of the home, who will be celebrated in all the cities of Egypt. One finds here again a goddess's potential dual personality.
This myth covers a geographical reality: from the solstice of summer, the declining sun moves away then toward the southeast, after the solstice of winter it comes back northwards, which is to say from the place of or source of the flooding of summer. This explains what was inseparable again (and a priori contradictory) : the paroxysm of solar strength coincides with the inundation.