When I started getting an interest in mythology, I started to think about the references to other gods in the Bible. I was curious to learn more about Baal and Asherah and Moloch, gods who were worshipped by the Canaanites and their neighbors and found continued devotion in the Israelites, who were always proving themselves unfaithful to their singular God. Not much information is actually known about Canaanite mythology outside of a few incomplete texts found at the site of Ugarit in Syria. I’ve decided to give a short overview of the Canaanite deities (as well as a couple human characters). I’ll give more information on those mentioned in the Bible or in the epic Baal Cycle. Continue reading
Of all the mythologies, that of the Norse is second to the Greeks’ in terms of influence on western civilization, though in the last couple centuries Egyptian mythology has challenged it in the popularity rankings. The recent Marvel superhero movies have certainly helped with the Thor franchise, though the Valkyries and several of the gods and heroes have long captured public imagination thanks to the operas of Wagner. Before listing the gods, I should give a little background in how they are organized. There are two pantheons of gods: the Aesir and Vanir. There really isn’t too much of a difference between them, though the Aesir appear to be more prominent as in addition to ruling Asgard, they have the king-god Odin. According to myths, the Aesir and Vanir warred for a while before coming up with a treaty. Both Aesir and Vanir deities were worshipped by the Norse peoples. There are also deities outside of these two groups, more monster than man, such as the dragon Nidhogg and the serpent Jormungandr. The prophecy of Ragnarok claims that almost all of the gods will die in a a great final battle against the giants and a host of monsters, including Loki. This list may cover bits of German mythology, as the Germanic peoples virtually worshipped the same gods under different names.
A Vanir, Freyr is the son of sea god Njord and brother of Freyja (a love and fertility goddess who giants and monsters are constantly trying to force into marriage). Freyr and Freyja moved to Asgard following the ending of the Aesir-Vanir war to ensure peace. Freyr and Freyja are both beautiful gods, and both oversee fertility, as well as aspects of sexuality. Freyr himself is the god of male virility and good weather. Depictions of him often emphasize his phallus. He also owns a shining boar named Gullinbursti, who was literally fashioned by the dwarves using pig skin. Freyr once owned a magic sword that could fight on its own, but had to give it away. What brought this around was his love of the giantess Geror. He asked his servant Skirnir to get her on his behalf, but Skirnir demanded that he get the sword. Freyr agreed. This will come back to bite him later when he battles Surtur. Without his magic sword, he will fall before the fire giant. Continue reading
Release Date: February 26, 2016
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Gods of Egypt is an expensive retelling of Egyptian mythology, chiefly Horus’ war with Set. Thought up in 2012 and filmed in 2014, the film for some reason took until early 2016 to get its theatrical release, perhaps from heavy amounts of post-production for all the CGI. Due to a stupid-looking trailer and the hiring of white actors for the roles of Ancient Egyptians, general movie audiences were already against the motion picture before its release, resulting in what is easily a major box office flop. As of the time of this review it’s made about half of its budget back.
The main plot centers on Horus, who after having his eyes pulled out and his father Osiris murdered, sulks in a tomb. Set, Osiris’ murder, takes over Egypt. Things change for Horus when human thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) hands him back one of his eyes. The two embark on a quest to restore the kingdom for Horus and get revenge of Set.
I should probably talk about the casting first, as it generated great controversy. Since Gods of Egypt was filmed in Australia, money was saved by hiring many Australian actors. Arguably a few of the native peoples could have been used, but most of Australia’s more well regarded actors are white. No such excuse exists for the hiring of white Europeans like Gerald Butler (Set) and Nikolaj-Coster Waldeau (Horus). I have to admit it was pretty hilarious to hear the grand Egyptian god of the desert roaring in a Scottish accent. That’s not to say the cast is all-white. Thoth is played by African-American Chadwick Boseman, who also attempts a more African accent. Elodie Young, a French actress of mixed descent, looks quite right for major Egyptian goddess Hathor.
The director, Alex Proyas, has defended his casting decisions and deviations from historical accuracy by saying that his film is set in an alternate world. This would seem to be the case, as the world is both flat and Egypt-centric as presented in the original myths. The question is, does the film succeed in spite of white-washed casting and complaints about accuracy?
Not really. It isn’t the complete pile of crap that many critics are saying it is. It’s fun and has some really cool visuals. Where it really fails is in its screenwriting. Gods of Egypt tries really hard to have a lot of humor like the Marvel movies. It seems every time something dangerous or serious is happening, a quip just has to be made. A more epic, serious movie would have been much better, especially since the jokes more often than not don’t land. One exception is the vain, overly honest, knowledge-obsessed Thoth, who is legitimately funny.
This film is CGI heavy, perhaps too much. It looks like actual landscapes were filmed, but the senses can potentially be overloaded by all the perfect architecture, computer-generated animals, and crazy colors. Even when people are talking in a desert the sky is CGI red like they’re trapped ina video game. The creatures themselves don’t look realistic either, however well-designed they may be. Fans of Egyptian history will also be displeased to see some of the aesthetic choices, such as a European crown instead of the tall pharaoh hats during the coronation scene.
Almost the entire character list is made up of the gods themselves. I didn’t find any of the performances awful unless you count Gerald Butler’s over-acting, which I found entertaining. Also entertaining was Ra (Geoffrey Rush), who does a good job of portraying a wise and weary primal deity. Assisting the cast of gods is the human thief Bek, who seems to be permanently stuck in an optimistic, naïve state. In the interest of spoilers I won’t give away his main storyline. It’s sympathetic enough, but despite the films’ efforts I didn’t find his character all too endearing. In fact, he was annoying.
If I had to compare Gods of Egypt to anything else, I would choose the Clash of the Titans remake and its awful sequel Wrath of the Titans in that it’s a hyper, CGI-fueled retelling of old myths. The main contrast is in how the gods are portrayed. In most movies and shows based on Greek myths, the gods are (rather correctly) portrayed as jerkasses who act on their whims and emotions and who humanity must eventually rebel against. Most of the deities in Gods of Egypt are more noble, though still flawed. The authority of Ra and Horus are considered good for the universe, not destructive.
Gods of Egypt is not a great movie and though I enjoyed it I can’t even call it a good one. I recommend a theatrical viewing only if you want to have a fun, silly way to kill a couple hours, or perhaps you want to support a mythology-based movie, of which there aren’t very many outside of Greek-inspired tales.
Being a mythology buff, I’d like to go into more detail about how the various Egyptian gods are portrayed in Gods of Egypt. There will be spoilers in this section. First I want to address a specific scene.
Osiris is ready to coronate Horus in front of all the gods and people (save Ra, who is off on his space boat keeping the world safe from Apophis). Set comes in and signals an army of humans and monster-gods to take things over. Osiris demands him to stop and Set stabs him to death for his troubles. Horus takes on his battle form to fight him. What bugs me about this scene is how all of the gods, some who are shown to have great fighting capabilities later on, all cower and quiver like a bunch of wussies. You’ve got Thoth and Isis, two masters of magic. And it’s not like the original myths where Set was trying to murder Osiris and his family but wasn’t out to be an awful ruler. Here he’s openly declaring that he will turn all humans into slaves and rig the afterlife to generate more revenue for him. Why don’t they do something? Why do they let him get away with it and fight him later instead of nipping his takeover in the bud?
Anat and Astarte (Abbey Lee and Yaya Deng): The two Near Eastern goddesses are actually in this movie, though instead of being Set’s wives they are presented as his military commanders, riding snakes into battle. Myth buffs hoping to see them finally on the big screen will be disappointed, as they are little more than henchwomen, not two of the most popular female deities of the ancient world.
Anubis (Goran D. Kleut): Anubis is portrayed as usual as a dog-headed deity. Also as usual he is mistakenly presented as the main god of death, though this time he’s just doing his job and isn’t some evil god of darkness.
Apophis: The great serpent is accurately depicted as trying to engulf the universe in chaos. The special effects team decided to make him a worm instead of a snake, with three circular rows of teeth. Initially just a cameo, he does play a larger part in the film’s climax.
Hathor (Elodie Yung): The goddess of love is presented as a bit mischievous and serves as the love interest of Horus. Thankfully they didn’t equate the role of goddess of love with a lusty whore and she’s a strong character in her own right. She fights through magic, her lion form of Sekhmet not mentioned or used. Her hat has cow horns, a nice callout to her cow form. There’s some weird backstory about her being indebted to demons of the underworld.
Horus (Nikolaj-Coster Waldeau): The main character of the movie, Horus is an okay character. He spends a lot of his time complaining and he utters many of the not-funny quips. His winged falcon battle form is pretty cool though.
Isis (Rachael Blake): Thanks to a certain terrorist organization in the Middle East, Isis’ role is tremendously reduced. As Horus’ mother in the myths, she was heavily present, using her sorcery and guile to aid her son in his war against Set. It’s a shame that fears over associating with an army of Jihadists had my favorite Egyptian deity reduced to the role of “mother” (she is never referred to by name!). She just helplessly reacts to what happens in the opening and then dies offscreen of grief. You won’t see the beautiful, intelligent, and protective character of myth here.
Nephthys (Emma Boothe): Referred to as a goddess of protection instead as one of darkness, death, and night, Nephthys is an okay character. To my appreciation they acknowledge that she was married to Set in the myths. She’s one of the last holdouts against Set’s rule in the film.
Osiris (Bryan Brown): Osiris is the wise father of Horus and gets killed off to kickstart the story. No mention is made of him eventually being resurrected as the green-skinned god of the dead. In contradiction to the myths, Horus is already born before his murder, instead of having Isis reassemble his corpse in order to produce an heir.
Ra (Geoffrey Rush): Like in the myths, Ra is dragging the sun around the earth, in this film literally doing so by tying it to his ship with a chain. What’s absent is the many gods who usually would assist him in battling Apophis. Here he’s all by himself, which does make him more badass. He also serves as the wise mentor figure for Horus.
Set (Gerald Butler): Set was villainous in the myths, but here he’s an absolute bastard. They rip off Hades’ backstory form Clash of the Titans, making him the jealous brother stuck with the least desired realm, in this case the desert. Like Horus he has a pretty awesome armored battle form, based on the mysterious Set animal. He’s an entertaining villain, even though he engages in all kinds of villain clichés.
Thoth (Chadwick Boseman): Thoth is depicted as an aloof nerd who is obsessed with obtaining all knowledge. His mastery over sorcery is only hinted at and he is shown using his brain. It was very amusing to watch him struggle with a riddle when my friend sitting next to me in the theater solved in instantly. The film doesn’t mention any association with the ibis bird or baboon.
No gods are more well known to the western world than those of the Greeks. Greek mythology is extensive, with hundreds if not thousands of myths having been passed down over the centuries. It’s like the fictional universes of Marvel or DC, with a large cast of characters who manage to connect to each other in a complicated web of tales. Many phrases have been derived from it: “caught in a net”, “Pandora’s box”, “caught between a rock and a hard place”, “Herculean effort”. Its gods, though no longer worshipped, show up in many places. Sea kings and mermen with tridents come from Poseidon, speedy people such as the Flash wearing winged shoes or helmets come from Hermes, and the idea of God striking people with lightning is a leftover from Zeus. These are my top ten Greek gods, and while there were many to choose from, it was easy to find my favorites since the most of the very colorful characters are confined to the twelve Olympians.
Hermes has the role of the messenger of the Gods. His functions for humanity make a long list. He is the god of travel, trade, speech, sports, borders, searching, and even thieves, and guides the dead to the underworld. Like many of the Olympians, he is the son of Zeus, his particular mother being mountain nymph Maia. Although important in an official capacity to both the gods and mankind, Hermes also has the reputation of a trickster. One well known example is when, while still in his infancy, he decided to steal Apollo’s prized herd of cattle. He reversed the hooves of their feet, so when he led them away it looked as if they went in the opposite direction. Apollo was angry and confused, but did eventually find his half-brother and bring him to Zeus for trial. Zeus found the whole affair hilarious and rather than punish Hermes, simply had him return the stolen cattle. Continue reading
The Celtic peoples used to inhabit most of western Europe, residing from Spain to eastern France and from northern Italy all the way to Ireland and Scotland. They even had pockets of civilization in areas such as modern day Turkey. Different groups of Celts had different deities, though some were shared among them. Before going down the list there are several important things to consider.
- The Celts had many more gods than other peoples, as they would have a special deity assigned to each individual spring, river, and natural landmark. This list only focuses on gods with greater spheres of influence.
- The Celts can be said to have several pantheons, although several popular gods crossover. There are Celtic gods unique to Hispania, Gaul, Britain, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Gods on the British isles tend to be shared more between different sub-groups of Celts. Thanks to the preservation of their myths and legends by writers, the Irish and Welsh are the most well-known (Irish gods will be referred to as the Tuatha De Danaan, meaning “Children of Danu”, Danu being a primal mother goddess).
- Because Celts did not produce images of their gods, or write down their myths, preferring oral tradition, information on most deities is rather scarce. Any images or information comes from their Roman conquerors, who believed that they were merely their own gods under different names. As a result, any images of Celtic gods were of Roman design, and made to fit the images of characters such as Zeus and Apollo.
- Celtic mythology is further muddled by Christianity. Celtic legends and myths were put to paper by Christian monks and other writers. Along with Christianizing many aspects of the tales, it’s believed that many of the heroes and other characters were originally gods turned into human, though still very incredible and supernaturally gifted characters. Suspected examples are Cuchulain and Merlin. This list only includes names that are definitely known to have been worshipped as gods.
This familiar goddess was actually a Roman creation. Britain was finally conquered by the Romans under the rule of Emperor Claudius. Claudius was presented with an image of himself standing atop a defeated woman representing the island. Under Hadrian the woman started to appear in a far more dignified manner on coins and was even elevated to the status of goddess. The representation of Britain, Britannia was depicted as an Athena-like figure, paying homage to both the Greco-Roman world and the Celtic lands dominated by Rome. Like Athena, she wears a soldier’s helmet and a white dress. In her hands are a spear and a shield. She was later brought back on British coins in the 17th century. She became and still is one of the signature symbols of Great Britain, though the origins of the warrior woman on coins is unknown even by many British citizens. Although not an original Celtic god, she was nevertheless worshipped after the Roman invasion by both the island’s native inhabitants and its colonists.
Taranis is the Gaelic god of thunder and the wheel. Like other deities from Gaul, no myths survive about him, only his functions as a god. Ancient statues and art show him as a bearded figure, holding a lightning bolt in his right hand and a wheel in the other. Romans saw him as the Celtic interpretation of Zeus thanks to his apparent ability to wield and throw lightning. As for the wheel, it was associated the cyclical nature of time and the sun. The six or eight spokes on wheels corresponded to major, annual Celtic festivals, and in fact the calendar for the Celts was the Wheel of the Year. Although most information about him has been lost, Taranis can be seen as one of the most important deities of ancient Gaul.
Balor was not worshipped, but still a god. He was the king of a race of monster-gods called the Fomorians. At one time they ruled Ireland until the Tuatha de Danaan, the gods the Irish worshipped, arrived. Balor was a giant, and his greatest weapon was a third eye on his forehead. The lid of the eye was so heavy that servants had to attach ropes to it in order to pry it open. Once this was done, the third eye would destroy anything in its gaze. In the beginning of his myth, Balor rules over Ireland, even having dominion over the Tuatha de Danaan. He learns that his grandson is prophesied to overthrow him. Locking his only child, the woman Ethniu, in a tower, he believes that his fate is averted. However, she is rescued and eventually gives birth to Lugh, god of light. Lugh sides with the Tuatha de Danaan. In the Battle of Mag Tuired, the Fomorians and Tuatha de Danaan fight to decide the fate of Ireland. Balor keeps the battle in the Fomorians’ favor, even killing the silver-armed king Nuada. But Lugh kills him, with a spear or slingshot depending on the interpretation. Balor’s eye is hit and it is sent out the back of his skull, vaporizing his own army. Balor is associated with the concept of the evil eye.
Also known as Brigit and Bridget, Brigid is one of the most well-known Irish deities, and in a way is still worshipped today. She is the goddess of art, blooming of the spring season, healing, high dimensions, livestock, poetry, smithing, and springs. She was merged with the Christian St. Brigid. However, some scholars argue that, since St. Brigid is given such magical qualities and has conflicting and unclear biographies, that she is merely a Christianized form of the goddess. Many Catholics in Ireland and its neighboring isles still revere Brigid, and depending on how you view the saints, she could be considered a holdout from the pagan era. Although her Irish form is well-known, Brigid was actually a mother goddess worshipped all over Europe, known in Britain and Gaul as Brigantia.
Although performing the common function of a fertility goddess, Epona is more noted for her dominion over horses and all similar animals. In the ancient world, horses were an integral part of both land transportation and warfare, so much so that Epona received widespread popularity among non-Celts as well, with cults to her ranging all the way to North Africa. Roman cavalry in particular were fond of her. She is depicted riding sidesaddle on a white mare. Kings would symbolically marry her to affirm their royal status. Unfortunately, this involved actually having intercourse with a white mare and then killing the animal afterwards to distribute its body. The name Epona is familiar to gamers, as it was given to the hero Link’s horse in Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series.
Yet another goddess of fertility and animals, Artio was noted for a specific association with bears. One uncovered statue shows a woman, believed to be Artio, seated on a throne and holding fruit. Approaching her is a bear, evidently being fed by her. No myths survive about Artio, but I think she’s a very cool goddess just from the fact that she is associated with bears. Bears had religious significance in Ancient Europe. In addition to being symbols of power, several prominent animal-shaped constellations were named after them, such as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. It is debatable whether Artio’s bear association was related to hunting, protective power, or both. Romans saw her as Artemis/Diana, their goddess of the hunt who often transformed into a bear.
Lugh is the grandson of Fomori king Balor and the Irish god of light and crafts. Worshipped all over the British Isles, Lugh is most well known in Ireland, where he for a time serves as the king of its gods. Aside from killing Balor and bringing the Tuatha de Danaan to power, Lugh’s accomplishments also include creating a regular pan-Irish series of athletic games and fathering famed hero Cuchulain. Lugh is also the god of the spear, which in most versions is what he uses to kill Balor. His own personal, magic spear is incredibly sharp at its point, able to go through anything, and is one of the four great treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan. Many historians and others believe that Lugh was downgraded and heavily altered by Christian monks and scholars to the point that he became the leprechaun. This would indeed be a humiliating end for the savior and king of the Irish gods.
Cernunnos is one of the more well-known Gaelic gods thanks to several recovered pieces of artwork. These include the Pillar of the Boatmen and the Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Cernunnos as a man sitting cross-legged and adorned with stag antlers. Cernunnos, often referred to simply as the “horned god”, was associated with hunting, animals, fertility, and nature in general. Cernunnos, as a fatherly god associated with the male activity of hunting, might have a link to stag parties, as he himself has the horns of a stag. Thanks to his appearance, the “horned god” was equated with the devil in Medieval Europe.
2nd. Manannan Mac Lir
Manannan Mac Lir is the main Celtic sea god, and appears quite often in surviving tales. He is a protector of Ireland, as the sea surrounds it. He himself is a master of magic, and he rides the ocean on a chariot driven by sea-horses (of the mythical equine kind, not the real ones). Other portrayals show him in a much more simple boat, using an oar to row himself around. The Isle of Man is named after him. According to one tale, the name is given from another god, Mac Cuil. Mac Cuil is not much of a god and actually practices thievery. However, he eventually converts to Christianity, changing his ways and spreading his new religion all over the island he is on. Manannan Mac Lir approaches him and sadly notes that in this new age his name will be forgotten. Mac Cuil assures him that as long as he himself remembers the sea god, The Isle of Man will keep its name, and thus the name of its god, alive.
Morrigan, the “Phantom Queen”, is the Irish goddess of war and death. She is perhaps the most feared deity, as she often appears in one of her various physical guises to let a warrior know death is around the corner. She might appear as a hag washing his armor, or as a bird sitting atop his future corpse. Morrigan’s main animal is the crow or raven, birds noted for hanging around battlefields to scavenge on the dead. Morrigan is responsible for the death of famed Irish hero Cuchulain. With a crush on him, she uses various disguises to gain his affections. Attempts to approach him in animal form see her getting wounded. With each rejection, her ire grows hotter and she eventually causes him to die in battle, resting on his shoulder as a crow to assure his enemies that he is truly dead. Morrigan is also a triple goddess, a confusing concept in which one deity is actually three separate individuals. Morrigan is Anand (or Anu), a goddess of fertility, Badb, a war goddess who transforms into a crow, and Macha, the death crone. Other versions have Morrigan as the third of another triple goddess.
Other Notable Celtic Gods
Aengus Mac Gog: Aengus is the closest thing the Celts have to a full on god of love.
Belenus: Gaulish god of healing and light, Belenus was equated with the ever-popular Apollo and thus was highly favored by Roman colonists.
Dagda: Powerful father of the Irish gods, Dagda wields a club while holding a cauldron
Danu: Danu is the mother of the Irish gods and in Welsh mythology is Don.
Ogma: Irish god of eloquence and learning, he is also a great warrior and wields a Fomorian sword.
Sucellus: Also known as the “Hammer God”, Sucellus carries a long-handled hammer and a bowl of what cold be wine. He is believed to be the god of agriculture and wine.
Cunliffe, Barry The Celtic World McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1979
Ellis, Peter Berresford The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends Running Press Book Publishers. 1999
Stewart, R.J. Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses Sterling Publishing. 1990
Various Heroes of the Dawn: Celtic Myth Time-Life Books. 1996
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, HowardJohnson.com, & Google Images
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.