Animals played an important role in the worship and beliefs of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. The connection between deities and animals were apparent in artistic depictions and some of the characteristics associated with the gods. In this article, you will learn about some of the animals that were significant to the ancient Egyptian culture, including birds.
The shape, function, and meaning associated with animals able to take flight were often linked to ancient Egyptian beliefs and deities. The all-mighty Nile in Egypt served as a home for many different kinds of wildlife, including a variety of birds , like the falcon, goose, crane, pigeon, vulture, ibis, owl, and heron. Some also believe that chickens could have been present during the days of the New Kingdom.
The falcon or hawk was sacred to one of the most important ancient Egyptian gods , Horus. The bird was thought to serve as the guardian of the ruler. In art, it is not uncommon to see the bird spreading its wings in a protective manner behind the head of the pharaoh. During the Late Period, a catacomb was constructed for the sole purpose of housing mummified falcons in Saqqara. Other birds were placed into the tombs as well. This is because the Egyptians may have viewed the falcon connected to Horus as being interchangeable with a wide range of various birds of prey.
Thoth was constantly present in ancient Egyptian myths , known for his intelligence or the mind. He was also associated with the tongue of the sun god, Ra. One of the responsibilities of the god was to maintain the universe. The sacred bird of Thoth was the ibis. In art, Thoth is shown with the head of an ibis or baboon.
During the Late Period and Ptolemaic times, ibises were mummified and buried in large numbers in various catacombs scattered about the country. At the time, there were three different kinds of ibises , the sacred, hermit, and glossy. Since the hermit ibis was not a bird that stayed close to the water, it is not depicted as much as the other two species, which more commonly made their home along the banks of the Nile. In Egypt, the birds thrived until the 19th century. Today, the species is nearly nonexistent in the country.
Today, the vulture is not the most attractive bird of the bunch, but during ancient Egyptian days, this feathered creature represented the manifestation of Mut and Nekhbet. The ceilings of many temples were dotted with the vulture displaying outstretched wings because it served as a symbol of protection. Sometimes, the bird was shown sitting on the ground as a way to refer to kingship.
Two different types of vulture were mentioned or recognized in ancient Egyptian art and text: the griffon and the “Egyptian” vulture. However, it was the griffon vulture that was often used to make a reference to goddesses and members of a royal family.