Like most polytheistic societies, the Egyptians had plenty of gods. There are at least a hundred confirmed deities (the actual number gets tricky when you consider that some gods were merged into one or others had alter egos), and they covered all aspects of life. Here are my ten favorite Egyptian gods and goddesses.
The son of Ra, the sun god, and Bast, the cat goddess, Maahes is one of many protector/war deities. Taking after his mother, Maahes has the head of a feline, specifically a lion. Maahes has the cool distinction of being the god of knives, and is drawn holding two long knives. He’s also the god of lotus plants for some reason. The most fearsome and memorable aspect of Maahes is his treatment of prisoners of war: he ate them! Maahes is probably the one war god that enemies of Egypt would not want to meet. Maahes isn’t as well known in popular culture, possibly because he only appears in the myths as one of the deities protecting Ra (the sun) against the ravenous serpent of darkness Apep.
With so many cults and changing views over thousands of years of history, Egyptian myths about creation are inconsistent. This applies to the origin of humans as well. Ptah was said to have used the power of thought to create humanity, but there is also the story of Khnum. The ram-headed Khnum literally builds humans out of clay. He makes two bodies for each individual, one physical and the other spirit. He then merges them to create the final product, though frog goddess Heket breathes the actual life into them. The center of worship for Khnum is the Nile island of Elephantine. Khnum is one of my favorites because the idea of fashioning humans by hand and breathing life from them brings into mind God’s creation of Adam and Eve.
Ra is the head honcho of the Egyptian pantheon, but I was hesitant about putting him higher on the list. This is because even though he literally is the sun, he actually comes across as a little weak and indecisive in many of the myths. Isis poisons him and makes him give up his secret name to that she can have magical power over him. When overseeing the meeting on whether Horus or Seth should have authority over Egypt, he can’t decide who to support. And despite having the powers of the sun at his disposal, he needs an entire entourage of fellow gods and the prayers of humans to fight off Apep. Still, Ra can be awesome, as he is the creator deity. In fact, Ra is an amalgamation of several deities. The Egyptians streamlined their religion by saying that Amun, Atum, and Khepri were actually alternate names and forms of Ra (which is why you might see Ra referred to as Amun-Ra). Ra is the father of most of the major gods and goddesses and is also the father of the pharaohs. So while he may look weak or gullible in some of the myths, Ra still has an indispensable function in Egyptian culture.
Set is one of two Egyptian gods that can actually be considered a villain. He is the god of chaos, the desert, storms, violence, and later foreigners as well. Most of these things aren’t highly regarded. Still, Set did have some respect among worshippers due to his power. He is one of the chief defenders of Ra, standing at the front of the sun god’s sun barque in order to stave off Apep. His most vile act and establishing moment of villainy is murdering his brother Osiris in an attempt to gain his throne, and then spending decades trying to kill his son Horus, as well as battling Osiris’ wife Isis. Set eventually loses for good, but is compensated for his loss with multiple wives from the Canaanite pantheon (in an early example of a crossover story). Historically, Set’s popularity with Egyptian worshippers took a huge hit when the invading Hyksos took over and made him the chief deity. Set is a jerk, but he does provide most of the interesting conflict in the actual myths. Other common names for him are Seth and Setesh. No one knows for sure what his animal head comes from. It could be a fictional creature to symbolize his authority over chaos, or it could be a portrayal of a jackal or aardvark, creatures that dwell in the desert and wilderness.
I only put Sobek in the top ten for one reason: he’s a crocodile! In addition to being a patron for one of the coolest animals, Sobek represents royal, protective, and military power. Sobek is either depicted as a man with a crocodile head or just a crocodile wearing a crown. Historically, Priests raised crocodiles and dressed them up as Sobek in honor of the god, even directing their prayers at the reptiles. He had several centers of worship, one which was actually once called Crocodopolis. Some of Sobek’s most devout worshippers went as far as to merge him with Ra, effectively making him the number one god.
Apep is the other villain of Egyptian mythology, an embodiment of darkness and chaos. Unlike Set, he has no functions that make him an object of worship. In fact, priests would utter prayers against him. Apep is usually in the form of a great black serpent, constantly seeking to destroy Ra and thus the sun, ending all life and light. At night, Apep attacks Ra’s sun barque while it is in the underworld. When the sun rises, it means Ra has won, as he usually does. However, if there’s an eclipse, it means Apep has won a rare, though temporary victory. Apep makes the list because he’s one of the rare fully evil gods, and possibly the most powerful. I wonder why he isn’t used as the main villain in popular culture as much, with Set and (mistakenly) Anubis often getting that role. Another name for Apep is Apophis. Ancient Egyptians actually didn’t want him killed, as they thought this would upset the balance of the universe and destroy everything.
Hathor is one of the most popular goddesses in Egyptian history. This is natural, as she is the goddess of love, mothers, birth, fertility, music, dancing, and miners. Except for maybe miners, all of these things are very popular with humankind. Although much art and statues show her with a cow head, this is actually not her primary form and is more symbolic of her role as a fertility goddess. In fact, she may be the most beautiful goddess, and often dances naked before Ra to cheer him up when he’s down. What really puts Hathor in the top five is her alter ego as Ra’s avenger Sekhmet. As Sekhmet, she gains a lion’s head. In one myth, Ra responds to rebellion by unleashing her on humanity. However, she grows so enamored with drinking the blood of her victims that she won’t stop. Ra just wants to teach humanity a lesson, not make them extinct. Taking the advice of some other gods, Ra creates a wine that looks and smells like blood. Sekhmet drinks it up and passes out, enabling her transformation back into Hathor. Hathor’s close relationship with Ra gives her the title “Eye of Ra”.
Horus, often depicted with a falcon’s head or even as a human child, is the god of the sky, the sun, war, and protection. But his most important duty is as the god of pharaohs. Pharaohs are the physical human embodiments of Horus. Horus has a decades-long war with Set, which sees him lose his left eye. Horus is born with solar power in his eyes, giving him power over day, but now he is missing one. Thoth intervenes and creates a lunar eye, giving Horus power over both day and night. Horus has a couple other interesting encounters with Set. One sees them turn into hippos and fight each other, which ends indecisively thanks to Isis throwing harpoons at them. Another actually has Set attempting and failing to rape Horus, as semen was given magical qualities by ancient Egyptians and could theoretically be used as a weapon. Ra and Osiris may be the most powerful gods, but Horus gave the pharaohs the divine right to rule, justifying their authority.
Thoth is the god of art, diplomacy, knowledge, writing, and the moon (he has to share the moon with Khonsu). His favorite animals are the ibis bird and the baboon, and he takes their forms. What makes Thoth so awesome is that he’s really smart, and that he even though he’s not the type that fights, he still helps Horus and Isis achieve final victory over Set. He can usually be found at Ra’s side as his personal secretary, even joining in to help fight off Apep when they travel through the underworld. In the afterlife, he records the results of weighing of the souls, helping decide who can travel to paradise and who will have their soul consumed by the monstrous Ammit. Thoth is also a nerd, being the creator and patron of astronomy, botany, geometry, math, medicine, and theology. Much of his knowledge is contained in the Book of Thoth.
Arguably the most popular Egyptian deity (even being worshipped by Romans until well into their decline), Isis is the goddess of children, love, and motherhood. She also responds to the prayers of all people, with particular interest for common people and those in hard positions, even slaves. Most important to the actual myths, she is the goddess of magic. Egyptians were obsessed with magic. To them it was very real. Isis uses magic to protect and aid Horus in his war with Set, and on a couple occasions uses trickery to gain power over Ra, such as the time she learns his secret name. In her greatest feat, she is able to resurrect Osiris’ body in order to have sex and give birth to Horus (Osiris is resurrected for good later, but becomes the god of the dead while Horus takes his place in the world of the living). Isis was even more popular than Horus, and was the center of a major cult in Roman-dominated Egypt. Isis is perhaps the strongest female deity in character and power, in world as well as Egyptian mythology, which ensures her top spot on this list.