Ra – God of the Sun
When I speak of Ra, I try and make sense of a myriad of legends and myths in which the core is that Ra was the creator of the world. In the various texts that I have consulted in the study of this magnificent God, he seems to have more than one name also. Some call him Atum-Ra or Atem-Ra, others call him Amun-Ra or Amen-Ra or change the names to Ra-Atem and so on. This can be very confusing for us when we make a study of this magnificent God, yet we need to remember that Ra is one of the oldest Gods in the Ancient History and he reigned supreme long before the history was documented on stone tablets by the priests in the temples, using hieroglyphs which only became understandable after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in July 1799 by Napoleon and his troupes. Much of the history, myths and legends were handed down the generations by the temple priests. That is the main reason why there is more than one myth currently in circulation. This is also the reason why there is often confusion about the genealogy of the Gods and goddesses who, to the layman, seemed to be incestuous in their relationships all the time.
After much study on the subject of Ra, this is my personal acceptance of the legend. Others may disagree, but this is how I see the legend of Ra. Ra, in his godform, lived in the primordial waters of Nun, the unstructured water mass before the creation of the earth. At some stage he got tired of being buried in these murky, inert watery mass and rose out of the water in all his splendour, as we know him today. Upon leaving the waters of Nun, he stood in the primordial mass of water on a mound described as the Benben Stone or the pyramydion, which is the summit of a pyramid, together with his two children Shu, the god of Air, and Tefnut, the goddess of Moisture, whom he had created out of dust and his own spittle. They were therefore created from and by their father Ra. These three Deities formed a triad or threefold Deity. It is speculated that this is where the Christian concept of the Trinity originated. As they were standing on the mound, Shu and Tefnut slipped down into the mass of water and were swept away.
One legend has it that Ra then plucked his right eye out of his head and flung it on the waters to go and search for his missing children. His eye took the form of a goddess who would fulfil this task. Here is one of the discrepancies that confuse many people. Some say that this goddess was Hathor, others say it was Sekhment who was later identified as another form of Hathor and there are also a number of texts that define this Goddess as Bast, who later on is identified as the twin sister of Heru-sa-Auset (Horus, son of Isis). I favour in this case the Goddess Hathor or her alternate form Sekhmet. While Hathor was away searching for Ra’s children, he grew a replacement eye and when she returned with the lost children, she was most upset to have been replaced and rejected by Ra. Ra wept for joy because of the return of his children, yet Hathor was angry and wept tears of rejection and anger. To placate her, Ra took her and placed her on his brow as his third eye.
The texts most used to define who and what Ra was, are The Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead. There is consensus however that Ra is the creator God of all that exists and that he is the Supreme Being, the One God, the only Deity. He has a solar form, the Sun as we see it on a daily basis in which he travels across the heavens in a holy bark, an Egyptian boat. Amun is the hidden side of the God, that part that we do not see or feel, the ultraviolet rays, the ‘back side’ of the Sun, so to speak, while Ra is the part of the God that we experience as heat and light and see as the solar disk that rides through the Heavens. Ra has only one great enemy the serpent Apep, also known as Nak, who represents the forces of chaos and must be defeated every day so that Ra can maintain his creation. Various gods and goddesses help Ra to defeat Apep on a daily basis. The ones that are mentioned the most are Ra’s hidden side, Amun, Maat who is regarded as the Goddess of order, justice and truth and Hapi, the God of the Nile, is often mentioned as well.
There is one school of thought that proclaimed that Ra came into being as Khepera. Khepera, who is represented as the scarab beetle, is believed to have been generated spontaneously out of dead matter. The name Khepera means “The one who comes into being”. The ancient Egyptians did not understand the life cycle of the dung beetle. What they saw was a fully grown dung beetle, or scarab as they were known in Egypt, pushing a ball of dung along the desert sands and then leave the ball behind and disappear into the unknown. After a while they will just see a whole group of new little scarabs emerge from the ball of dung and they believed that the scarab had regenerated itself. They did not understand that the scarab had its eggs into the dung and that the eggs were hatched there.
As Ra grew older he still reigned peacefully. At some stage during this aging process, there were dissenters who moved to take disadvantage of Ra. We are never told who these dissenters were or where they came from, the inference was that they were not necessarily connected to the Earth as we know it, but were more like players in some cosmic drama. Here another legend is told about the Eye or Ra. It is said that he became so angry that he plucked his right eye out of his head and that his eye became the Goddess Hathor (or alternately Sekhmet or even Bast), just like in the previous legend. Hathor was sent to deal with the dissenters, the evil doers, and their ingratitude to Ra. She created so much havoc and bloodshed that Ra eventually called her off as he feared she might just overdo things and destroy his entire creation. Whichever of the two legends of the Eye of Ra you, as the reader choose to adopt, is entirely your own choice. There is nobody who can prove which was the true legend. I personally favour the second legend.
This was the time when Ra decided to withdraw into the heavens. The God Nun, from the primordial waters, called upon the Goddess Nut who changed into a cow and carried Ra on her back and raised him high into the vault of the heaven and that is when our Earth, as we know it today, was born.
Apart form his daily journey across the heavens in the royal bark, or as some believe, the solar disk being pushed across the heavens by Khepera and his daily battle with Apep, the story of Ra then continues through his two children, Shu and Tefnut and their offspring. Shu and Tefnut were twins although they were not born of a natural mother, but were created by their father Ra. They were the direct ancestors of Auset (Issis) and Asar (Osiris). In the old Greek texts Shu was compared to Atlas as he was also said to carry the world on his shoulders. He was often also depicted as a warrior by the name of Anhur. Tefnut, on the other hand, was a lioness, the goddess of the Sun and dew and it was said that she received the newborn Sun every morning with her dew.
Shu and Tefnut had two children, Nut and Geb. These two apparently angered their grandfather Ra to such an extent that he cursed them and said that they would not bear children in any month of the year. The reason for this anger was never told. They were so upset that they consulted Tehuti (Thoth) who was a very powerful magician. Tehuti felt sorry for them and made a plan to help them. He played draughts, a form of chess, with the Moon in order to win them some additional time. He beat the Moon and the prize he played for was that the Moon would give him an additional 76nd part of the Moon. This gave him five extra days that he could add to the Egyptian calendar of 360 days. The additional 5 days were then given to Nut and Geb to bear their children and in succession Nut gave birth to Asar (Osiris), Auset (Isis), Heru (Horus) the Elder, Nephthys and Set. It was also told that Asar and Set were twins while Auset and Nephtys were twins. These five Gods and Goddesses were therefore the great grandchildren and direct descendants of Ra.
CALLING ON RA IN RITUAL
All this pre-history is very interesting and helps us to understand some of the apparent discrepancies in the legends. However, who was Ra, what does he do for us as followers of the Egyptian tradition, how should we honour him best? I personally accept Ra as the Golden Ruler, the God of the Sun. What does he ‘look’ like in his earthly form? He is depicted as a man with the head of a Hawk who carries a solar disk on his head. The hawk is the bird that soars free, is powerful and all-seeing. That would be the form that I would visualise when I evoke Ra to attend a rite. In his aspect of Atum-Ra, he would sometimes be depicted as an old man holding a staff and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
When would we call on the Power of Ra in a rite? When you suffer from depression, it is a good time to call on Ra. When you are involved in a battle, Ra is the most powerful God to call on for assistance. Ra is often also called on in spells to increase prosperity. The most serious reason why we would call on Ra is to save and protect children who are harmed or abused. In a case such as this, Ra’s anger is terrible and his retribution very painful. As he did not hesitate to punish his own grandchildren, Geb and Nut, for whatever reason, so he will punish whoever harms a child in any way, he promises that they will go through darkness so terrible that they will long for the light and His flame. This protection does not only apply to small children, however. We are all his children and when we are in need of protection against harm and abuse, we also have the right to call on His Protection as well as retribution for what is done to us. Ra promises to come through for us under these circumstances.
When we call on Ra in our rites, we should observe his sacred colours and gemstones. His sacred colour is gold. When we wish to assume the godform of Ra, it is advisable to wear a cold coloured robe or, alternatively, add gold coloured accessories like a golden scarf or belt to your ordinary ritual robe. Burn a gold candle in His honour on your altar. His two sacred gemstones are the golden topaz, which is generally not too expensive or hard to find or, alternatively a yellow diamond, which is both scarce and very expensive. If you don’t have either, a picture of one would be acceptable on your altar.
When we invite Ra’s participation in spells and rituals for prosperity, lifting depression, protection in whatever form, just specify the form of protection you need, or his assistance in a battle, burn a second, appropriate coloured candle for the specific ritual. Burn a green candle for prosperity, a white candle for protection of any form, pink or dark blue for lifting depression and for assistance in battle black or red. If you have a specific child or person in mind for protection against abuse, burn that particular person’s astrologically correct colour candle if you now what it is.
Ra has a number of sacred animals who are special to him and could be incorporated in rituals such as the bennu bird, scarab, bull, cat, cobra, falcon, hawk, lion, phoenix, ram or sparrow. If you have a small statuette, you could use that or, alternatively, you could use a picture of this particular animal. Like the gemstones or candles the use of these particular items are optional. I prefer, however, to make the effort to prepare a special altar appropriate for the specific God or Goddess when I do rituals. To me they are signs of my respect for the Deity.
Although the Egyptian rites do not correspond exactly with the Pagan Sabbaths celebrated by modern time Pagans who practice the Egyptian religion, we have developed a series of rituals that correspond with the pagan Sabbath rituals. The seasons in Egypt are totally the opposite of the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere, as the time of ploughing and seed planting fall in the autumn, Winter is the time of fertility and growth, Springtime was the time of the harvest, while Summertime was their dead season of the year. Their festivals were linked to the flooding of the Nile and corresponded far better with the time of the Sabbaths in the Southern hemisphere.
Although all Sabbaths are celebrated in this fashion, three festivals or rites are celebrated in the southern hemisphere to correspond with the Egyptian rites in which Ra is honoured. The first is 21 / 22 March, the Autumn Equinox or Mabon during which the Legend of Ra and Auset are re-enacted. This is a re-enactment of how Auset tricks Ra to reveal his secret name to her, so that she can have his power of magic. She creates an adder out of dust and the spittle of the elderly, drooling Ra and this adder then bites Ra. This is the image of Ra at sunset, when he weakens just before setting. As he weakens from the poison she repeatedly asks him to give her his secret name so that she can do magic to save his life. At first he refuses and when he is on the brink of death, he whispers his secret name to her. She uses this knowledge to cure him of the poison and then has his power of magic. This appears to be a tale of betrayal and trickery, but it actually about renewal and regeneration to ensure the continuity of all solar and lunar principles.
The second festival in which Ra plays a role is the summer Solstice or Litha, celebrated on 21 / 22 December in the Southern Hemisphere. The aspect of Ra celebrated here, is the Eye of Ra. During the rite the myth of Destruction of Mankind is told. The myth tells of the punishment of mankind for the blasphemy and rebellion against Ra who sent his daughter Hathor (or Sekhment) against them. Hathor / Sekhmet is an ambiguous character who is at the same time violent and destructive but and may be the death dealing heat of the sun but who is also indicative of the life-giving power of the sun, which makes plants grow. She is a powerful goddess who must be regarded with love, awe, fear and deep respect, for people wished to enjoy her beneficent aspect rather than her wrathful one.
The third rite in which Ra is honoured, is Imbolc (31 July / 1 August) where the Truimph of Ra is celebrated together with the Blessings of Nut. These two rites follow one another on consecutive days. A spell is recited in honour of the Sun God on the last day on the second month of winter and the birth of the Goddess Nut on the following day. I will only include the honouring of Ra at this time, as Nut would be given her rightful place when we visit her. Ra, the Rising Sun is honoured by the name Heru-Khuti, a form of Horus and by Tem or Temu as the god of the Setting Sun. This whole rite is constructed around a shortened poem singing the praises of Ra and his Creation, as embodied in the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead. You can include as many praises to Ra as you wish in this rite. The emphasis in this rite falls on the fact that gods and goddesses are aspects of the Supreme Being, Ra, who is beyond human comprehension but who is recognised in various forms and manifestations.
When doing a ritual or rite where Ra is called upon to be present or for his assistance, you could perhaps mix a special oil to charge your candles with or special incense which could be burnt on a charcoal block during the ritual.
Finely grind together 4 parts of Frankincense, 1 part dried Juniper Berries, 2 parts dried Orange Peel and 1 part Myrrh and burn on a charcoal block during the ritual.
Use about a tablespoon of Grapeseed Oil or Sweet Almon oil as a carrier oil and add 4 drops of Frankincense oil, 2 drops Sweet Orange oil, 1 drop Cinnamon Oil and 1 drop Myrrh oil. Mix together in a small glass vial and use on your altar to charge candles, or use on your body as a perfume, not forgetting to put a drop on your third eye in honour of Hathor, who is in the position of Ra’s third eye.
Of all the Gods and Goddesses, Ra is the most visible as He is with us every day. Build up a relationship with this powerful God and be assured that you have a God present at all times – he is constant and will never desert you when you are in need. Just never call on him to save you when you have consciously messed up!
PAKHET, Priestess of Egypt