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Ra (often pronounced as Rah, but more correctly as ) is the ancient Egyptian sun god. By the fifth dynasty he became a major deity in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the mid-day sun, with other deities representing other positions of the sun. Ra changed greatly over time and in one form or another, much later he was said to represent the sun at all times of the day. The chief cult centre of Ra first was based in the city of Inun, transcribed in English as the [Place of] Pillars, later called Heliopolismarker meaning "City of the Sun" by the Ancient Greeks. In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra was merged with the god Horus, as Re-Horakhty (with many variant spellings). When his worship reached this position of importance in the Egyptian pantheon, he was believed to be in command of the sky, the earth, and the underworld. He was associated with the falcon, the symbol of other sun deities who protected the pharaohs in later myths. After the deities were paired with pharaohs, the children of Hathor were considered to be fathered by Ra.

Ra is most commonly pronounced 'rah'. It is more likely, however, that it should be pronounced as 'ray' ; hence the alternative spelling Re rather than Ra. The meaning of Ra's name is uncertain, but it is thought if not a word for 'sun' it may be a variant of or linked to 'creative'. As his cult arose in the Egyptian pantheon, Ra often replaced Atum as the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the deities of the Ennead, and became a creator of the world.

Up until the mid-twentieth century, theories of Egyptologists postulated that the Heliopolis priesthood established this pesedjet at Heliopolis in order to place their local sun-god Ra above all other deities such as Osiris. Many Egyptologists now question this .

It appears almost certain, rather, that the Great Ennead—the nine deities of Atum, Geb, Isis, Nut, Osiris, Nephthys, Set, Shu, and Tefnut—first appeared during the decline of Ra's cult in the sixth dynasty, and that after introduction of the new pesedjet the cult of Ra soon saw a great resurgence until the worship of Horus gained prominence. Afterward worship focused on the syncretistic solar deity Ra-Horakhty (Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons). During the Amarna Period of the eighteenth dynasty, Akhenaten introduced worship of another solar deity Aten. The deified solar disc represented his preferred regional deity as he attempted to lessen the influence of the temple of Atum. He built the Wetjes Aten (wṯs ỉtn), elevating the Sun-disc temple in Iunu. The building blocks that was used for this temple were later used to build the walls around the medieval city of Cairomarker; some were included in the construction of the city gates. The cult of the Mnevis bull, an embodiment of Ra, had its centre here and established a formal burial ground for the sacrificed bulls north of the city.

In the later myths Ra was seen to have created Sekhmet, the early lion-headed war goddess from Upper Egypt, who became Hathor, the gentle cow goddess, after she has sufficiently punished mankind as the avenging Eye of Ra. This changed the themes of much earlier myths into aspects of Ra and he was often said to be the father of both Hathor and Sekhmet, as well as brother to the god Osiris. Afterward, nearly all forms of life were believed to have been created by Ra alone, who called each of them into existence by speaking their secret names and eventually humans were created from Ra's tears and sweat, hence the Egyptians call themselves the "Cattle of Ra."


Ra shared many of his symbols with other solar deities, in particular Horus, usually depicted as a falcon. In artwork Ra primarily is depicted as a man wearing a pharaoh's crown (a sign of his leadership over the other deities) and the wadjet sun disk above his head. Often he had a falcon's head, as does Horus. In later myths about Ra, the sun is portrayed differently according to the position of the sun in the sky. This was an early theme in Egyptian myths, with different names assigned to the sun depending upon its position in the sky. At sunrise he was the young boy Khepri, at noon the falcon-headed god Harakhty, and at sunset the elder Atum. This constant aging was suggested by some later Egyptians as the reason Ra stayed separate from the world and let Osiris or Horus rule in his place. This idea often is coupled with the myth in which Isis was able to trick an elderly Ra, having ruled on earth as a human pharaoh, into revealing his secret name, and thus the secret of his power. Ra subsequently lost a portion of his power, resulting in the cult of Isis and Osiris to rise in importance.

In general,the ancient Egyptians associated many symbols with Ra: The Bennu bird was say to be the soul of Ra and the symbol of creation and rebirth.The wadjet sun disk, also shown as the hieroglyphic of theAnkh, symbolizes the life given by the sun.Obelisk represents the rays of the sun and was worshiped as a palace of a solar god. Pyramids, aligned east to west, Falcon; Bull;a cobra commonly seen wrapped around the sun disk, the form of the goddess Wadjet, who often was depicted as an Egyptian cobra, an animal thought only to be female and reproducing through parthenogenesis. Some traditions relate that the first wadjet was created by the goddess Isis who formed it from the dust of the earth and the spittle of Atum. The uraeus was the instrument with which Isis gained the throne of Egypt for her husband Osiris. As the sun, Ra was thought to see everything.

Together with Atum, Ra was believed to have fathered Shu and Tefnut who in turn bore Geb and Nut. These in turn were the parents of Osiris, Isis, Set (also known as Seth), and Nephthys. All nine made up the Heliopolitan Ennead.


For the ancient Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made sun deities very important to the ancient Egyptians, and it is no coincidence that the sun came to be the ruler of all. In his myths, the sun was either seen as the body or eye of Ra.

Ra was thought to travel on a solar boat called the Mandjet (The Boat of the Millions or, alternatively, the Boat of Millions of Years) in order to protect the sun's fires from the primordial waters of the underworld as it passed through during the night. Ra traveled in the sun boat with various other deities including Set and Mehen who defended against the monsters of the underworld, and Ma'at who guided the boat's course. The monsters included Apep, an enormous serpent who tried to stop the sun boat's journey every night by consuming it. Alternatively, some ancient Egyptians believed that Ra died as the sun would set every night. The Mandjet barque would then turn into the Mesektet barge (the Night-barge) that would carry Ra through the underworld back towards the east in preparation for his rebirth at sunrise. These myths of Ra conceptualized the sunrise as the rebirth of the sun by the Sky goddess Nut, thus attributing the concept of rebirth and renewal to Ra and strengthening his role as a creator god.

Early in his myths Ra was said to be married to Hathor and they were the parents of Horus the Elder. Later, these myths changed Hathor into a daughter of Ra. This featured prominently in the myth, often called The Destruction of Mankind, in which Ra sent Hathor down to punish humanity in the form of Sekhmet.


As with most widely worshiped Egyptian deities, Ra's identity was often confused with others as different regional religions were merged in an attempt to unite the country.

Amun and Amun-Ra
Amun was a member of the Ogdoad, representing creation energies with Amaunet, a very early patron of Thebes. He was believed to create via breath, and thus was identified with the wind rather than the sun. As the cults of Amun and Ra became increasingly popular in Upper and Lower Egypt respectively they were combined to create Amun-Ra, a solar creator god. The name Amun-Ra is reconstructed as * ). It is hard to distinguish exactly when this combination happened, but references to Amun-Ra appeared in pyramid texts as early as the fifth dynasty. The most common belief is that Amun-Ra was invented as a new state deity by the (Theban) rulers of the New Kingdom to unite worshipers of Amun with the older cult of Ra around the eighteenth dynasty.

Atum and Atum-Ra
Atum-Ra (or Ra-Atum) was another composite deity formed from two completely separate deities, however Ra shared more similarities with Atum than with Amun. Atum was more closely linked with the sun, and was also a creator god of the Ennead. Both Ra and Atum were regarded as the father of the deities and pharaohs, and were widely worshiped. In older myths, Atum was the creator of Tefnut and Shu, and he was born from ocean Nun.

In later Egyptian mythology, Ra-Horakhty was more of a title or manifestation than a composite deity. It translates as "Ra (who is) Horus of the Horizons". It was intended to link Horakhty (as a sunrise-oriented aspect of Horus) to Ra. It has been suggested that Ra-Horakhty simply refers to the sun's journey from horizon to horizon as Ra, or that it means to show Ra as a symbolic deity of hope and rebirth. (See earlier section: Ra and the sun)

Khepri and Khnum
Khepri was a scarab beetle who rolled up the sun in the mornings, and was sometimes seen as the morning manifestation of Ra. Similarly, the ram-headed god Khnum was also seen as the evening manifestation of Ra. The idea of different deities (or different aspects of Ra) ruling over different times of the day was fairly common, but variable. With Khepri and Khnum taking precedence over sunrise and sunset, Ra often was the representation of midday when the sun reached its peak at noon. Sometimes different aspects of Horus were used instead of Ra's aspects. In Thelema's Liber Resh vel Helios, Ra represents the rising sun, with Hathor as the midday sun and Tum as the setting sun.

Ra rarely was combined with Ptah; the sun "crosses" over Ptah in the underworld before Ptah is reborn, thus there would be no sun-ray when this happens. Other combinations can and do exist: The rising sun with sun ray, the noon sun with sun ray, and sitting sun with sunray. But as per the Memphite creation myth Ra was often said to be Ptah's first creation, through his divine will, especially when associated with Atum or Amun.


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His local cult began to grow from roughly the second dynasty, establishing Ra as a sun deity. By the fourth dynasty the pharaohs were seen to be Ra's manifestations on earth, referred to as "Sons of Ra". His worship increased massively in the fifth dynasty, when he became a state deity and pharaohs had specially aligned pyramids, obelisks, and solar temples built in his honour. The first Pyramid Texts began to arise, giving Ra more and more significance in the journey of the pharaoh through the underworld.

The Middle Kingdom saw Ra being increasingly combined and affiliated with other chief deities, especially Amun and Osiris.

During the New Kingdom, the worship of Ra became more complicated and grandeur. The walls of tombsmarker were dedicated to extremely detailed texts that told of Ra's journey through the underworld. Ra was said to carry the prayers and blessings of the living with the souls of the dead on the sun boat. The idea that Ra aged with the sun became more popular with the rise of The New Kingdom. Eventually, during the reign of Akhenaten(mid 1350s-1330s), the worship reached the level of "uncompromising monotheism"

Many acts of worship included hymns, prayers, and spells to help Ra and the sun boat overcome Apep.

Though worship of Ra was widespread, his cult center was in Heliopolis in Lower Egypt. Oddly enough, this was the home of the Ennead that was believed to be headed by Atum, with whom he was merged. The Holiday of 'The Receiving of Ra' was celebrated on May 26 in the Gregorian calendar.

The rise of Christianity in the Roman empire caused an end to the worship of Ra by the citizens of Egypt, and as Ra's popularity suddenly died out, the study of Ra became purely for academic knowledge even among the Egyptian priests.


  1. Metz, H. C. (Ed.). (1990). Historical setting. In Egypt: A country study (ancient egypt) [Report]. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from Sam Houston State University, Dept. of History Web site:
  2. Quirke, S. (2001). The cult of Ra: Sun-worship in ancient Egypt. (pp. 144). New York: Thames and Hudson.
  3. Müller, M. (2002). Ra. In D. B. Redford (Ed.), The ancient gods speak: A guide to Egyptian religion (pp. 328). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.


  • Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  • Salaman, Clement, Van Oyen, Dorine, Wharton, William D, and Mahé, Jean-Pierre. The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1999.

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