Egyptian mythology is the collection of myths from ancient Egypt which describe the actions of gods and goddesses as a way to understand the world around them. The ancient Egyptians believed that life, nature, and society were determined by the gods and goddesses, and when they left the Earth, pharaohs inherited the right to rule.
The first evidence of gods and goddesses in Egypt comes from the Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686 BCE), and grew out of religious beliefs. Artwork from that time period depicts animal and human figures that are believed to be connected with Egyptian deities, but no one knows for certain. As the Egyptian society grew more sophisticated, more evidence of religious activity became clear.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped many gods and goddesses. Some of them looked like humans, but many of them were part human and part animal such as birds, cats, rams, and crocodiles. The major themes that most Egyptian myths center around are the judgement of the dead, the struggle between good and evil, and the cycle of birth and rebirth.
The Ancient Egyptians worshipped animals for thousands of years. Dogs were special because of their ability to hunt and protect, but cats were the most worshipped of all. Egyptians believed that cats were magical creatures and that they brought good luck. Cats were dressed in fine jewels and fed the best food, and when they died, they were mummified; as a sign of mourning, owners would shave their eyebrows and mourn their cat until their eyebrows grew back. Cats were so valued that if someone killed a cat, either on purpose or by accident, they were sentenced to death. Egyptian gods and goddesses had the ability to turn themselves into animals, but only a goddess named Bastet could take the feline form.
Ancient Egyptians believed in an underworld or pathway to the stars called Duat, eternal life, and rebirth of the soul. Duat could only be reached by traveling through the tomb of the dead. Those who could afford it would be mummified to protect their spirit. Once in the afterlife, the deceased would go through the Hall of Justice and declare themselves guilty or innocent to Osiris, god of the dead and underworld. The jackal headed god Anubis would weigh the heart of the deceased on Ma’at’s scale against her feather of truth. If the heart balanced with the feather, their soul could join the gods in the Field of Reeds and be reborn. But if the heart was heavier than the feather, it was devoured by Ammit, the Devourer of the Dead, and the deceased soul’s journey would end.
The activities in this lesson plan are geared specifically toward Egyptian mythology, and can be paired with our Intro to Egypt lesson plan to round out your unit on Egypt.