Egyptian Mythology: Enviromental Influences

David Gootgarts

Religion can be thought of as the recognition by human beings of a superhuman power that controls the universe and everything that is, was, or shall be in it. Each individual human being can consider that the superhuman control power is a deity worthy of being loved; or capable of inspiring awe, obedience, and even fear. The effect of these feelings on individuals can lead to the setting up of a system of worship of the deity; and to the drawing up of a code of beliefs and conduct inspired by their religious faith. As all religions follow this, the Egyptians seem to be unique in their beliefs.

The Egyptians did not have a true religion; they had more of a collection of myths and doctrines, which evolved to suit the worshipper?s needs. Although many changes were evident in their religion, conflict between new and old concepts did not occur. However, their belief system was much more complex and elaborate than that of any other culture. A clear reason is not given, but we theorize that environmental conditions play a significant role in their authenticity.

It is a truism that the activities of people everywhere are influenced by the conditions under which they live, and religious thought is no exception to this. Before the days of mass communication, an Eskimo, living in cold climate, had no experience of any great heat generated by the sun. His idea of hell, therefore, would be a place of extreme cold. On the other hand, a man living in a hot climate can only visualize hell as an even hotter place than any with which he has ever had acquaintance with.

The Nile River plays an important part in Egyptian mythology. As the Nile flows northward through Egypt, it creates a narrow ribbon of fertile land in the midst of a great desert. The sharp contrast between the fertility along the Nile and the wasteland of the desert became a basic theme in Egyptian mythology.

The Egyptians lived in a river valley, 1200 km long from the Egypt south border at Aswan to the northern boundary on the Mediterranean, bordered in by ancient river terraces. The only fertile land was that watered by the Nile, which flowed through the valley: the rest was desert. Thus, the land in which the Egyptians lived was considered to be ?the gift of the river?. Every year, the Nile swollen by the heavy rain that fell in Uganda and Ethiopia, where the river had its twin sources and by the melting snows of the Ethiopian mountains flooded its banks, along with it a layer of rich silt, making for excellent farming conditions. Because of this, food would be of no great concern to them, and with trade, economic stability would be established. Stability would then allow time for complex thought and formal education. This balance would be the key to their prosperity, and their religion would be based greatly on worshipping the power that allows for this balance.

Ra was the Sun god of Egypt, and Hapi the god of the Nile River. As the Egyptians knew of the Sun?s great significance, they gave Ra the status that Zeus has over Olympus. Hapi, being the god of the key to Egypt?s prosperity, was also given great power. These two gods would most likely be the two most important gods of Egyptian mythology, since these deities are directly related to the two most significant elements that allowed for Egypt?s 2500-year-reign.

In addition to aforementioned agricultural values, the Afterlife was of great importance to the ancient Egyptians and few cultures devoted so much of their time and wealth to preparation for their death than they did. Presumably, this would be so because they valued their current situation intensively, and they would have hope that even after death, that they would be able to live life in continual prosperity. It is their rituals related to the Afterlife that fascinates modern society, as we have made many movies, books, and documentaries concerning it. They valued this to such a degree because the afterlife was conceived of as continuation of life on earth, and by following this logic, the dead man would need, in his tomb, all those necessities and luxuries which made life on earth pleasant. In addition to this, they believed that the underworld replica of their body, the ?ka?, would need to make a