Outline of an Egyptian Creation Myt h

The "Eight" (Ogdoad)

Male - Frog(s)
Female - Serpent(s)


(waste, endlessness) 


Nun (Ptah)
 (waters, abyss)


(Ra) Atum ("The great he-she")
(Atum emerges from the mud and slime of the primeval hillock.)

The "Nine" (Ennead)

Atum ("he-she") sneezes out:


Shu (air)

Geb (earth) 


 + Tefnut (moisture)

+ Nut (sky)


Osiris + Isis ("Throne")
Set + Nephthys (Neftis)
Horus ("Face"), hawk
Osiris + Neftis produce Anubis, the jackal. Horus, the hawk symbolizes the sun, eternal life, while the jackal symbolizes death, decay of the body (a carrion animal).

The Legend of Ra, Isis, and the Snake

Ra, the chief god and sun god, has a secret name, which is the secret to his power. The goddess Isis (healing, childbirth, "throne") wants "to rule over the earth jointly with [Ra]" (204). She thought she could get this power by learning Ra’s secret name. Ra was getting old, dribbling at the mouth and having "little or no control over his body." Isis took some earth and after adding some of Ra’s drool (which, naturally, dropped from the sky), she worked and kneaded the clay into the shape of a snake. Somehow, with her magic powers, she brought the snake to life and placed it in hiding by the path that Ra (as the sun) traveled every day.

Soon, Ra came along with his retinue of gods and servants. The serpent leaped out and bit Ra in the leg. Ra began to feel woozy right away, feeling his "vital power" leaving him. As the serpent’s poison flowed through his veins, Ra screamed in pain. All the gods gathered round him, asking what was the matter. However, Ra was in the grip of the poison, and could not tell them what had happened—his teeth rattled and his limbs shook, "for the poison had flooded all his members, just as the Nile during the Inundation floods all of the land of Egypt" (204).

When Ra finally does manage to speak, he says that he has been wounded "by some deadly thing" (205) which he did not see or make, and he asks who would do such a thing to him. He says, "I have never suffered pain such as this before." Then he talks about what a mighty god he is and how many wonderful and powerful names he has. His real, secret name, however, "was hidden inside my body by my begetter so that the words of power of those who would work magic upon me might not obtain dominion over me" (205). He then talks about his pain again and asks the gods to help cure him with spells.

All the gods try, but only Isis seems to have a clue as to the nature of this disease. She says immediately that Ra has obviously been poisoned by a serpent, and moreover, that she can cure him with her "efficacious words of power" (206). Ra again complains about shaking and feeling chilled ("colder than water") and feverish ("hotter than fire"). Isis says, "Tell me thy name, O divine father, for the person liveth who repeateth thy name" (206).

However, instead of telling his name, Ra boasts of his creation of the earth and mountains and of his power to make the Nile rise (206). He tells Isis some of his other names--"I am Khepera in the morning, Ra at noon-day, and Temu in the evening" (207)-- but he will not surrender his secret name.

Isis is not fooled by these well-known names, and she asks again for the secret name. Since he is so ill, Ra finally says, "I will allow myself to be searched through by Isis, and will let my name come out from my body and pass into her body" (207). Ra hides himself from the other gods, and Isis, assisted by her son Horus, performs the name operation in some unspecified manner. She then utters a magic spell ("Discharge thyself, O poison" etc.), curing him with her words of power. No doubt this magic spell for curing snakebite could be used by humans who were in similar straits as Re.

Work Cited

Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Dwellers on the Nile. 1926. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1977.

Back to ENG 204 World Mythology Course Index

Egyptian Myth LINKS

Siren's Egypt Index: http://pubpages.unh.edu/~cbsiren/mythold.html#egypt

Exploring Ancient World Cultures: Egypt: http://eawc.evansville.edu/egpage.htm

Oriental Institute, University of Chicago: http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/default.html
 [Authoritative, impeccable scholarship, if a bit puzzling to navigate--check out their ABZU index to Ancient Near Eastern Resources on the web.]