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AKH. . The akh was the aspect of a person that would join the gods in the underworld being immortal and unchangeable. It was created after death by the use of funerary text and spells, designed to bring forth an akh. Once this was achieved that individual was assured of not “dying a second time” a death that would mean the end of one’s existence.
AKHET. . This was the horizon from which the sun emerged and disappeared. The horizon thus embodied the idea of both sunrise and sunset. It is similar to the two peaks of the Djew or mountain symbol with a solar disk in the center. Both the beginning and the end of each day was guarded by Aker, a double lion god. In the New Kingdom, Harmakhet (“Horus in the Horizon”) became the god of the rising and setting sun. He was pictured as a falcon, or as a sphinx with the body of a lion. The Great Sphinx of Giza is an example of “Horus in the Horizon”.
AMARNA. . The name given to the historical time period under the rule of Amenophis IV /Akhenaten. During this time period there were unprecedented changes in the government, art and religion.
AMENTA . . The Underworld. Originally the place where the sun set, this name was later applied to the West Bank of the Nile where the Egyptians built their tombs.
AMULET. . A charm, often in the form of hieroglyphs, gods or sacred animals; made of precious stones or faience. They were worn like jewelry during life, and were included within the mummy wrappings for the afterlife.
ANKH. . A symbol of life, resembling a looped cross. It was later adapted by Coptic Christians as their cross. Widely used as an amulet.
ANTHROPOID. . A Greek word meaning; man-shaped. This term is used for coffins made in the shape of a human.
APIS BULL. . The Apis Bull was sacred to Osiris. It was revered from the earliest times, through the Graeco-Roman period.
AQUERT. . A name for the land of the dead.
ATEN. . The god that gained its prominence during the reign of Akhenaten, who abolished the traditional cults of Egypt and replaced them with the Aten. This created the first monotheistic cult in the world.
BAKHU. . The mythical mountain from which the sun rose. The region of the eastern horizon. One of two mountains that held up the sky, the other being Manu. These peaks were guarded by the double lion god, Aker.
BARQUE SHRINE. . Model barques were kept in these shrines in temples. These model barques were used to carry deities out of the temples in festival processions.
BIRTH HOUSE. . These were small temples, attached to the main temples of the Late and Greco-Roman Periods. These small temples are where the god associated with the main temple were said to have been born, or if the main temple was dedicated to a goddess it was where she bore her children.
BENBEN. . A stone resembling a pyramid, representative of a sun ray and associated with the idea of eternal rebirth. A representation of the primordial mound.
BENNU. . an aspect of Ra-Atum in the form of a phoenix. The patron of the reckoning of time. The carrier of eternal light from the abode of the gods to the world of men.
BOOK OF THE DEAD. . This is a collection of magic spells and formulas that was illustrated and written, usually on papyrus. It began to appear in Egyptian tombs around 1600 BC. The text was intended to be spoken by the deceased during their journey into the Underworld. It enabled the deceased to overcome obstacles in the afterlife. It did this by teaching passwords that allowed the deceased to turn into mythical creatures to navigate around hazards, while granting the help and protection of the gods, and proclaiming the deceased’s identity with the gods. The texts continue the tradition of the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts. There are about 200 known spells and the choice of spells can vary from copy to copy.
CARTOUCHE. . A circle with a horizontal bar at the bottom, elongated into an oval within which king’s names are written It is believed to act as a protector of the kings name. The sign represents a loop of rope that is never ending.
CENOTAPH. . From the Greek word meaning; “empty tomb”. A tomb built for ceremonial purposes that was never intended to be used for the interment of the deceased.
COFFIN TEXTS. . Texts written inside coffins of the Middle Kingdom that are intended to direct the souls of the dead past the dangers and perils encountered on the journey through the afterlife. More than 1,000 spells are known.
COLOSSUS. . A more then life size statue, often of a kings, but also of gods and even private individuals. These huge statues usually flank the gates or pylons of temples. They are believed to act as intermediaries between men and the gods.
DJED COLUMN . . It is believed that the Djed is a rendering of a human backbone. It represents stability and strength. It was originally associated with the creation god Ptah. Himself being called the “Noble Djed”. As the Osiris cults took hold it became known as the backbone of Osiris . A djed column is often painted on the bottom of coffins, where the backbone of the deceased would lay, this identified the person with the king of the underworld, Osiris. It also acts as a sign of stability for the deceased’ journey into the afterlife.
DJEW. . This means mountain. The Egyptians believed that there was a cosmic mountain range that held up the heavens. This mountain range had two peaks, the western peak was called Manu, while the eastern peak was called Bakhu. It was on these peaks that heaven rested. Each peak of this mountain chain was guarded by a Akerlion deity named AKER, who’s job it was to protect the sun as it rose and set. The mountain was also a symbol of the tomb and the afterlife, probably because most Egyptian tombs were located in the mountainous land bordering the Nile valley. In some texts we find Anubis, the gaurdian of the tomb being referred to as “He who is upon his mountain.” Sometimes we find Hathor takeing on the attributes of a deity of the afterlife, at this time she is called “Mistress of the Necropolis.” She is rendered as the head of a cow protruding from a mountainside.
DROMOS. . A straight, paved avenue flanked by sphinxes.
FECUNDITY FIGURE. . Type of offering bearer rendered at the base of temple walls. They are shown bringing offerings into the temple. The male figures are often shown with heavy pendulous breasts and bulging stomachs, this plumpness symbolizing the abundance of the offerings they bring.
FETISH. . An animal skin hanging from a stick. It was used by the cults of Osiris and Anubis.
FLAGELLUM. . A crop or whip used to ward off evil spirits.
FUNERARY CONES . . Clay cones inserted above a tombs entrance with the name and title of the deceased.
FUNERARY OFFERINGS . . Bread, beer, wine and other food items provided by mourners or magically, through inscriptions and pictures in the tomb.
FLAME. . This symbol represents a lamp or brazier on a stand from which a flame emerges. Fire was embodied in the sun and in its symbol the uraeus which spit fire. Fire also plays a part in the Egyptian concept of the underworld. There is one terrifying aspect of the underworld which is similar to the christians concept of hell. Most egyptians would like to avoid this place with its fiery lakes and rivers that are inhabited by fire demons.
HEDJET. . A white crown. This was the crown of Upper Egypt (southern).
HIERACOSPHINX. . One of three varieties of Egyptian sphinx, having the head of a hawk.
HIERATIC. . From the Greek word meaning “sacred,” Although this form of the written language was used throughout Egyptian history, it’s name comes from the later periods when it was used only in religious texts.
HIEROGLYPH. . The Egyptian picture language. From the Greek word meaning “sacred carving”. The symbols are individual pictures that do not join together.
HIGH PRIEST. . The head of the local priesthood.
HORUS. . A falcon headed god. Horus was so important to the state religion that Pharaohs were considered his human manifestation and even took on the name Horus.
HORUS NAME. . A king’s name. It identifies the king with a form of the god Horus.
HYPOSTYLE HALL. . From the Greek word meaning; “bearing pillars”. It is a term used to describe the grand, outermost halls. They are believed to represent a grove of trees.
ISIS. . Isis was a great enchantress, the goddess of magic. She is often represented as a woman wearing on her head the hieroglyphic symbol of her name, which represents a throne or seat.
KHET. . This is a flame or fire. Fire was embodied in the sun and in its symbol the uraeus which spit fire. Fire also plays a part in the Egyptian concept of the underworld. There is one terrifying aspect of the underworld which is similar to the christians concept of hell. Most egyptians would like to avoid this place with its fiery lakes and rivers that are inhabited by fire demons.
KHNUM. . A ram headed god. His name means to create. He was the creator of all things that are and all things that shall be. He created the gods and he fashioned mankind on a potters wheel.
KHU . . A spiritual entity often mentioned in association with the ba. It was viewed as an entirely spiritual and absolutely immortal being.
MANU. . The mythical mountain on which the sun set. The region of the western horizon. One of two mountains that held up the sky, the other being BAKHU. These peaks were guarded by the double lion god, AKER.
MASTABA. . The Arabic word meaning; “bench”. Used to describe tombs of the Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom. The basic form resembled a bench.
MENAT. . A protective amulet invoking the divine favor. It was usually worn on a string of beads at the back of the neck, probably as a counterpoise to items of jewelry worn in front. Many of these amulets have been found in tombs. They were supposed to bring fertility to women and virility to men.
MENHED. . A scribes pallet. Writing was a very important skill to the ancient Egyptians. It was practiced by a group called scribes. The writing equipment used by scribes consisted of a palette, which held black and red pigments, a water jar, and a pen. To be a scribe was a favorable position, even some kings and nobles are show proudly displaying scribe palettes.
MIN. . In early times Min was a sky-god whose symbol was a thunderbolt. His title was Chief of Heaven. He was also seen as a rain god that promoted the fertility of nature, especially in the growing of grain.
MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE. . Housewife, title given to married ladies from the Middle Kingdom onwards.
MORTUARY. . pertaining to the burial of the dead.
MORTUARY CULT. . People who provided funerary offerings for nourishment of the deceased.
MORTUARY PRIEST . . Called the “servant of the ka”. This was a Person who was appointed to bring daily offerings to a tomb.
MUMMY. . From the Persian word; “moumiya”. A preserved corpse by either natural or artificial means. Mummification involved thoroughly drying the body to remove the source of decay.
NEBU. . This is the Egyptian word for gold, which was considered a divine metal, it was thought to be the flesh of the gods. Its polished surface was related to the brilliance of the sun. Gold was important to the afterlife as it represents aspects of immortality. By the New Kingdom, the royal burial chamber was called the “House of Gold.”
NECROPOLIS. . The Greek word meaning; “city of the dead” normally describes large and important burial areas that were in use for long periods.
NEITH. . A goddess of the hunt. She may have also been a war goddess. Neith was pictured as a woman wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, holding a bow and crossed arrows. Her cult sign was a shield and crossed arrows.
NEKHBET. . A goddess portrayed as a vulture. Protectress of Upper Egypt.
NEMES. . A striped headcloth worn by Pharaohs.
NETER-KHERTET. . This translates as “divine subterranean place”. A name for the land of the dead.
NILOMETER. . Staircase descending into the Nile and marked with levels above low water; used for measuring, and in some cases recording, inundation levels. The most famous are on Elephantine island and on Roda island in Cairo.
NINE BOWS. .A term given to the defeated enemies of Egypt.
NOME. . From the Greek, nomos; this is an administrative province of Egypt. The nome system started in the Early Dynastic Period. During some periods, when there was a highly centralized government the nomes had little political importance.
NU. . A swirling watery chaos from which the cosmic order was produced. In the begining there was only Nu. See also the creation myths
NUT. . Nut was originally a mother-goddess who had many children. The hieroglyph for her name, which she is often seen wearing on her head is a water pot, but it is also thought to represent a womb. As the sky goddess, she is shown stretching from horizon to horizon, touching only her fingertips and toes to the ground.
OPENING OF THE MOUTH. . This ceremony was performed at the funeral to restore the senses of the deceased. The ceremony was done by touching an adze to the mouth of a mummy or statue of the deceased, it was believed to restore the senses in preparation for the afterlife.
OSIRIS. . Supreme god and judge of the dead. The symbol of resurrection and eternal life. Provider of fertility and prosperity to the living. A bearded man wearing white mummy wrappings. Wearing the atef crown and holding the symbols of supreme power, the flail and crook. His skin is green to represent vegetation or red to represent the earth.
OSIRID PILLAR. . Pillar. mostly in an open court or portico, with a colossal statue of a king forming its front part; unlike caryatids in Classical architecture, the statues are not weight-bearing elements. Most are mummiform, but not all; the connection with Osiris is doubtful.
OSTRACON. . From the Greek word meaning; “potsherd”. A chip or shard of limestone or pottery used as a writing tablet. Ostraca are known from all periods. but 19th and 20th-Dynasty examples are the most common. The texts can be anything from a simple shopping list to drafts of hieroglyphic inscriptions.
PER NEFER . . The place where some of the purification and mummification rituals took place.
PET. . This is the sky depicted as a ceiling which drops at the ends, the same way the real sky seems to reach for the horizon. This sign was often used in architectural motifs; the top of walls, and door frames. It symbolizes the heavens.
PRAENOMEN. . This is a king’s first cartouche name, which he adopted on his accession; also called the “throne name.” It consists of a statement about the god Ra.
PROPHET. . This translates as “God’s Servant”, There was usually a ranking; the high priest of Amun at Thebes was called “The First Prophet of Amun”; below him were the Second Prophet and so on. The head of the local cults, was often called “Overseer of Prophets.”
PROPYLON. . Gateway that stands in front of a pylon.
PSHENT. . The Crown of upper and lower Egypt, the red crown and the white crown put together to represent a unified Egypt. Although Egypt was not always a unified nation it was stronger that way.Therefore unification was desirable. Narmer (Menes), the founder of the First Dynasty around 3100 B.C., was the first man recorded wearing this crown.
PTAH. . He is a creator god. The patron of architects, artists and sculptors. It was Ptah who built the boats for the souls of the dead to use in the afterlife.
PYLON. . From the Greek word meaning “gate” It is a monumental entrance wall of a temple. Pylons are the largest and least essential parts of a temple that is usually built last. Some temples have more then one set, the temple at Karnak has 10 Pylons.
PYRAMIDION. . Capstone of a pyramid or the top of an obelisk. Sometimes called a benben stone or primordial mound. The pyramidion was decorated and became a symbolic object that was the focal point of the small brick pyramids of private tombs.
ROCK-CUT TOMB. . Method of excavating tombs that begun during the Middle Kingdom. The burials in the Valley of the Kings are perhaps the best known Rock-cut tombs.
SARCOPHAGUS . . From the Greek word meaning; “flesh eater”. It was the name given to the stone container within which the coffins and mummy were placed.
SCARAB . . The dung-rolling beetle was, to the ancient Egyptians, a symbol of regeneration and spontaneous creation, as it seemed to emerge from nowhere; in fact it came from eggs previously laid in the sand. Seals and amulets in scarab form were very common and were thought to possess magic powers.
SED FESTIVAL. . This is ritual meant to show royal regeneration. It was traditionally celebrated after 30 years of a king’s reign. It is a scene usually found decorating the mortuary temples of the king.
SEKHEM. . A symbol of authority.
SEKHET-AANRU. . This mythical place was originally called the “Field of the Aanru plants” It was believed to be islands in the Delta where the souls of the dead lived. This was the abode of the god Osiris, who bestowed goodness upon his followers, and here the dead could lead a new existence complete with an abundance of food of every kind. The Sekhet-Aanru is in the “Fields of Peace“.
SEKHET-HETEPET. . According to the Osiris cults the Fields of Peace was the desired location of the deceased. They would join with their god, Osiris and become a khu, drink, plow, reap, fight, make love, never be in a state of servitude and always be in a position of authority.
SEMA. . It is believed to represent the lungs attached to the windpipe. As a hieroglyph this symbol represents the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Other symbols are often added to further illustrate unification.
It is sometimes bound together with two plants, the papyrus and the lotus. The papyrus represents Lower Egypt and the lotus represents Upper Egypt.
SEPAT. . The ancient Egyptian term for an administrative province of Egypt. See also NOME.
SESEN. . A lotus flower. This is a symbol of the sun, of creation and rebirth. Because at night the flower closes and sinks underwater, at dawn it rises and opens again. According to one creation myth it was a giant lotus which first rose out of the watery chaos at the beginning of time. From this giant lotus the sun itself rose on the first day.
SET AMENTET. . This means “the mountain of the underworld,” a common name for the cemeteries were in the mountains or desert on the western bank of the Nile.
SETH. . Early in Egyptian history, Seth is spoken of in terms of reverence as the god of wind and storms. He was even known as the Lord of Upper Egypt. Later he became the god of evil.
SHAWABTI . . See USHABTI.
SHE. . A pool of water. The Egyptians believed water was the primeval matter from which aII creation began. Life in Egypt’s desert climate depended on water, and a pool of water would be a great luxury. There are many tomb paintings that show the deceased drinking from a pool in the afterlife.
SHEN. . A loop of rope that has no beginning and no end, it symbolized eternity. The shen also seems to be a symbol of protection. It is often seen being clutched by deities in bird form, Horus the falcon, Mut the vulture. Hovering over Pharaohs head with their wings outstretched in a gesture of protection. The word shen comes from the word “shenu” which means “encircle,” and in its elongated form became the cartouche which surrounded the king’s name.
SISTRUM. . The sistrum was a sacred noise-making instrument used in the cult of Hathor. The sistrum consisted of a wooden or metal frame fitted with loose strips of metal and disks which jingled when moved. This noise was thought to attract the attention of the gods. There are two types of sistrum, an iba, was shaped in a simple loop, like a closed horse-shoe with loose cross bars of metal above a Hathor head and a long handle. The seseshet had the shape of a naos temple above a Hathor head, with ornamental loops on the sides. The rattle was inside the box of the naos. They were usually carried by women of high rank.
SOBEK. . A crocodile-headed god. Admired and feared for his ferocity. At the command of Ra, He performed tasks such as catching with a net the four sons of Horus as they emerged from the waters in a lotus bloom.
SPHINX. . A figure with the body of a lion and the head of a man, hawk or a ram.
THEBAN TRIAD. . This consist of the gods Amun, his wife Mut, and their son Khons.
THOTH. . An ibis headed god. Thoth was said to be mighty in knowledge and divine speech. The inventer of spoken and written language. As the lord of books he was the scribe of the gods and patron of all scribes. He is credited with inventing astronomy, geometry, and medicine. Thoth was the measurer of the earth and the counter of the stars, the keeper and recorder of all knowledge. It was Thoth who was believed to have written important religious texts such as The Book of the Dead.
TIET. . The exact origin of the tiet is unknown. In many respects it resembles an ankh except that its arms curve down. Its meaning is also reminiscent of the ankh, it is often translated to mean welfare or life. As early as the Third Dynasty we find the tiet being used as decoration when it appears with both the ankh and the djed column, and later with the was scepter. The tiet is associated with Isis and is often called “the knot of Isis” or “the blood of Isis.” It seems to be called “the knot of Isis” because it resembles a knot used to secure the garments that the gods wore. The meaning of “the blood of Isis” is more obscured but it was often used as a funerary amulet made of a red stone or glass. In the Late Period the sign was associated with the goddesses Nephthys, Hathor, and Nut as well as with Isis. In all these cases it seems to represent the ideas of resurrection and eternal life.
URAEUS. . A symbol of kingship. A rearing cobra was worn on the king’s forehead or crown. The cobra was associated with the “eye” of the sun. It was a protector of the king, spitting out fire.
USHABTI. . Literally translated it means “to answer.” It is a small mummiform figure placed in tombs to do work in the afterlife on behalf of the deceased. In some tombs of the late New Kingdom whole gangs of ushabti workers were included with different tools for doing different work. A complete collection would consist of 401 Ushabti: one for each day of the year, 365 plus 36 foreman.
WADJET. . See Udjat.
WINGED DISK. . This is a form that the god Horus Behudety (Horus of Edfu) takes in his battles with Seth. The god Thoth used his magic to turn Horus into a sun-disk with splendid outstretched wings. The goddesses Nekhbet and Uazet in the form of uraeus snakes joined him at his side. The earliest example of this image is found in the Ist Dynasty. It is used widely in architecture, on ceilings, cornices and stelae. It is an image that is often copied outside Egypt.