Throughout most of ancient Egyptian history, the god Ra was the supreme deity who governed the passage of hours, days, months, years, and seasons.
He brought order to the universe and made life possible. Ra could manifest in two other forms: Khepri, symbolizing birth or rebirth as the dung beetle, and Atum, representing the complete being.
The ancient Egyptian clergy explained that the sun star could assume different forms during its journey across the sky: Khepri represented the rising sun, Ra symbolized the sun at its zenith, and Atum represented the setting sun.
Ra’s daily emergence from the depths of the Duat (underworld) symbolized the cyclical nature of creation, and he was particularly venerated at Heliopolis.
During the Old Kingdom, the cult of Ra had a significant influence, combining with the two primary deities of creation, Atum and Amun, to give rise to hybrid entities like Atum-Ra and later Amun-Ra.
This is how the sun god became worshipped as a creator god. Ra was also considered the ancestor of the pharaohs, and his role grew even more complex as he merged with other gods.
The Birth of Ra
There are various versions of Ra’s birth. In a classic rendition, as recounted notably by Neil Philip in his work “Myths and Legends,” Ra created himself by naming himself, just as he would create the elements of life by drawing them from the Nun, the primordial ocean.
In a variant, Ra is said to have been brought into the world by the goddess Neith during the darkness that presided over the emergence of life on Earth.
When confronted by this darkness, he began to cry, and humanity was born from his tears. Neith also gave birth to the serpent Apophis (Apep). Apophis and Ra were in constant conflict, clashing night after night.
Ra, whether as Atum-Ra or Amun-Ra, was not only the god of the sun but also the ruler of both gods and humans. Ra, and later his sons, reigned on Earth. The eye of Ra watched and observed everything, sparing nothing from its gaze.