I have always been intrigued by the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. …And lately, the weather in my area has been extremely hot and sunny, reminding me of that most worshiped and important of gods to the ancient Egyptians—Ra, the sun god.
Ra’s voyage across the sky began at dawn as Khepri, the god of the rising sun. Each morning Ra is reborn through Khepri, which actually means “to come into being”. It was believed that Khepri would push Ra across the sky, just as a dung (or scarab) beetle would push dung—hence, Khepri is depicted as either a person with the head of a beetle or a person with a beetle on his head.
By midday, Ra as the great round orb (representing a full sun), was at his most powerful, not combining with any other gods or goddesses, but known simply as “Ra”.
As the sun begins to set, Ra once again comes to be associated with another ancient Egyptian god—that of Atum, depicted as an elderly version of Ra. Atum is also linked to both the Upper and Lower Kingdoms, which is why the image of Atum wearing the dual crown is often found in religious artwork. Additionally, there was a correlation between Atum and the underworld—so it is quite fitting that Atum leads Ra into the underworld. Once there, he helps to protect Ra; according to Richard H. Wilkinson in The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, “Atum is shown as an aged, ram-headed figure who supervises the punishment of evildoers and enemies of the sun god, and also subdues hostile netherworld forces….”
When he enters the underworld, Ra also becomes associated with Osiris, the god of the dead who oversaw the judgment of dead souls; not only are they paired together, but the ancient Egyptians believed that Ra and Osiris combined to become one.
During his journey through the underworld, Ra’s barge was invariably attacked by Apophis (also known as Aapep or Apepi), the spirit of evil. Luckily, the Egyptian god Set (aka Seth, Setesh, Setekha, or Suty)—god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence, and foreigners stood strong to defeat Apophis and to save Ra. (Here he is portrayed positively, although Set can sometimes take on a more negative role–but that is a story for another day.) In ancient Egyptian art, Set can often be seen standing on the prow of Ra’s solar barge spearing Apophis.
As day breaks, Ra’s voyage reaches the completion of its’ cycle. Ra and Osiris, who had merged into one god when Ra entered the underworld, now separate as Ra (the god of regeneration) is reborn once again. Khepri pushes Ra’s boat along its journey through the sky another time, while Osiris (the god of permanence) remains in the underworld below.
Thus Ra’s Voyage across the skies both ends and begins, persevering into perpetuity. As ancient Egyptian worshippers of the eternal sun god knew, the reign of Ra is everlasting.