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October 01, 2016

The difficult interpretation of Egyptian mythology

One of the cultures and mythologies most complicated is the Egyptian. When we speak of Greek, Rome or Inca mythology we find many stories and myths, but all united by an internal coherence and a series of oral or written sources that have made that their knowledge very close to us to understand. That does not happen with Kemet (Ancient Egypt). We are going to study why and try to explain the difficult mechanisms governing the internal consistency of a religion that lasted for more than two millennia.

As we approach the Egyptian mythology we find a multitude of gods who take various forms. The same God can be represented in many different ways, as an animal and as a man or woman with animal head for example, they can melt with other gods giving rise to new gods and representations and many of them adopt different functions. Similarly myths about the creation of the world differ depending on the city of origin and the same story has some gods or other as the main figure.

Under such conditions it is difficult to get a unique and closed idea of a god or a myth. It is simply something that is impossible for us in Egyptian mythology. We need to start taking it. We will not be able to find a single book with a single and totalitarian definition on a single concept, does not exist. Although other mythologies can find an entry or reference to a god with all his history and qualities, this can not happen in the world of Kemet without naming all their differences and various versions of the myth or God and you can never reach a type conclusion: Jer is the god ... and represents ...
Why does this happen? For various reasons. Yet there is a consistency in the inconsistency of the Egyptian myths and we will see at the end of the entry after explaining why we are facing such and apparent chaos.

First there is a time factor. We speak of a society that has existed for over two thousand years under an advanced civilization. Today we are not able to fully understand what this factor means because our modern time references are very scarce. To get an idea we think about everything that has happened since the industrial revolution so far in the "old" Europe to see how, despite having experienced many changes and developments and two world wars, is only a small space of time compared to Egyptian society.

The same applies to other societies that are closest to us by culture and location. The Roman Empire, even counting the republic did not take a third that the Egyptian society. The Greeks were perpetuated no more time than the Romans and civilizations as the Viking barely lasted more than 300 years. In comparison, these civilizations are an entry within the space of time that spanned Egyptian society, and yet we seem to last long and stayed much longer than it actually did.

Due to this factor we can not pretend that the gods and myths that originated during the first steps of Egyptian society were the same as at the end after two thousand years. And yet, they did not change much over a period of as long as if the societies that we did have named earlier. So in The last stage we tried to explain within each god the importance it had and the modifications within the different stages that crossed the Egyptian society.

Secondly there is a documentary factor. All we know of ancient civilizations is thanks to documents and written texts. Writing existed since the early Kemet, the first civilized era and that is the reason because seem that we should know as much as the Roman or Greek culture. It is not like this. The main reason is that writing was used almost expressly for sacred matters or civil documents so all we have today are such writings. Ordinary people could not read or write and also there were many methods of recording rather than papyrus, stone or ostraca texts.

This makes the current knowledge about the civilization of Kemet is influenced by religious texts or administrative nature. We do not have many sources of private and common people so Egyptology is based on the knowledge that we have and try to extrapolate habits, beliefs and culture to ordinary people. For this reason the vision of myths and gods is the view that the temples and sacred texts transmitted, but does not have to match the approach to them that had the regular people.

One problem that sum are the multitude of sources that exist on the Egyptian civilization developed later. Especially the Greeks wrote so much about Kemet (Herodotus) on their gods and myths. Doing so after egyptians lived and from a Greek prism many myths were confused, modified or altered so what came to us sometimes could not distinguish whether it came from the original source or centuries later. The fact that some gods would follow with other names and functions also helps to have an accurate picture of what was the original myth when compared with the old sources.

Thirdly we have what is known as the cultural contamination. As noted earlier, Greeks, Romans, Arabs have had influence and presence in the country of the Nile throughout history. This has led to various cultural aspects confounded among them, were adopted in the new culture or were modified according to what the new society is more willing to accept or understand. The Greeks changed all the names of gods and cities, assimilating themselves to their own gods and this caused an oversimplification of them.

Greek and Egyptian gods are not at all similar. Forced assimilation, in some cases excessive as Serapis, only causes the original idea is forgotten or see replaced. Against this cultural pollution has had to deal Egyptology always and although many have not been able to save it, for the most part has been possible thanks to the original sources and clearly differentiating what came later of the original.

Finally we have Egyptology sources that allow us the study of Egyptian society from all possible angles. We have already spoken of written sources, but equally or more important than these to identify patterns of behavior, migration or evolution of languages and customs are physical anthropology and paleopatology that allow the study of a culture depending on location, from the human point of view analyzing remains, DNA, and comparing with modern results in the same region at different times.

What we have to rely then to reconstruct the myth and the original functions of the gods ?. Since the last stage we recommend to go to the original written sources, despite that they only offer the standpoint of religion and administration. In the same way we have to open our mind to meet Egyptian mythology considering these points we have touched considering that it is impossible to have a single definition for a concept or a god as they can have different forms and functions, sometimes conflicting, and remain the same god and making sense in itself.