Legends of ancient Egypt – The Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus
One of the symbols that literally pervades Egypt’s entire mythology and history and is related to many gods and pharaohs is Wadjet in its two main hypostases – the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus.
The Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra, or the Solar Eye, embodied power and authority, fire and light, vigilance and swiftness of reaction, and was capable of burning any adversary. It was usually depicted as a Uraeus-Cobra, quite often winged (apparently in honor of the goddess Nekhbet), sometimes with a solar disk.
The Solar Eye was identified with Wadjet (one of the few goddesses whose serpentine nature is beyond doubt), Nekhbet, Maat, Hathor, and all the goddesses depicted as a lioness: Tefnut, Sekhmet, Mechit, and others.
As a prototype of the Uraeus, the guardian of Ra, Wadjet was often represented as a primordial serpent, spewing flame and venom – the sun’s eye, burning his enemies with its fire. According to some reports, the image of the Uraeus was based on the South Egyptian cobra, the Gaius, while others depicted the aspid.
Uraeus was a symbol of royal greatness, the power of life and death, the ability to rule and destroy the enemies of Ra. He was an integral part of the headdress of the pharaohs in the form of a vertical forehead snake, worn on the diadem, and from the Middle Kingdom – on the crown. Amon’s crown was topped with two uraei.
The Uraeus’s representation as protective signs was included in the sculptural décor of buildings (cornice of the chapel in the pyramid ensemble of Pharaoh Djoser in Saqqara, 18th century BC and others), murals in tombs, drawings in the “Book of the Dead”, etc.
They are also widely represented in the architecture of some European cities.
In the pre-dynastic era, Egypt included two warring regions, the Upper and Lower (downstream of the Nile). After their unification around 2900 BC by Pharaoh Men or Narmer into a centralized state, the country continued to be administratively divided into Upper and Lower Egypt, and was officially called the “Two Lands.” These real historical events are reflected in many myths, according to which Egypt, from the very beginning of creation, included two parts, each of which had its own patron goddess.
The southern part of the country was under the patronage of Nekhbet – the goddess in the guise of a female kite, and the northern part – was under the patronage of the snake-cobra Wadjet. Nehkbet and Wadjet were considered daughters of Ra and his Eye.
The gods and pharaohs, under whose supervision and protection was the state power in Egypt, wore the “United Crown of the Two Lands” – the crown of “Phent”. It represented the union of the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt into one and symbolized the unification of the country and the power over it.
The crown of “Pshent” depicted an Ureus, rarely two Ureus: one in the form of a cobra and the other in the form of a kite; sometimes papyrus and lotus were tied together (the emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt). Occasionally, two cobras crowned with red and white crowns served as symbols of united lands.
The supreme deities also wore the crown “atef” – a headdress of two high feathers, as a rule, blue (heavenly) color – a symbol of deity and greatness. Amon was always depicted in the crown of atef.
Eye of Horus
The Eye of Horus, also called Atshet or All-Seeing and the Eye of Healing, embodied the hidden wisdom and vision of the soul (clairvoyance), fulfilled the function of protection, and symbolized healing and resurrection after death.
According to one legend, when Seth killed Osiris, Horus resurrected his father by letting him swallow his Eye, which Seth had previously hacked to pieces, and Horus put them back together and brought the Eye back to life. As the Book of the Dead says, “The Eye of Horus rewards eternal life; and it protects me even when it is closed”.
The Eye of Horus was depicted as an eye with an eyebrow and a spiral under it, which some researchers interpret as a symbol of energy and eternal movement.
The eye of Horus was worn by many Egyptians, from the pharaohs to the common people. They were placed in the burial shrouds of the mummy – and the deceased, identified with Osiris, supposedly resurrected in the afterlife.
According to some researchers, the Eye of Horus was identified both with the left falcon eye of Horus – the Moon, which “rises” in the sky every month, and with his right eye – the Sun, which, having “died” in the evening in the west, is invariably “born” in the morning in the east. According to others, it corresponded only to the left Eye of Horus – the Moon, while the Right Eye of Ra represented the Sun. In this case, their images were the same (in the form of an eye).
There is also an opinion that the Eye of Horus (one or two) is the Eye of Ra (one or two) given by Isis to her son. And in some way, it was associated with the secret name of Ra, learned from him by the goddess. According to one legend, Isis whispered the following words to Horus on this occasion: “Now he [Ra] will give me his eyes.”
Throughout the Dynastic Period, the “two eyes” of Wadjet were drawn or carved in tombs, on sarcophagi, and on other funerary paraphernalia. They were also depicted on the bows of boats to keep them on course.
Quite often, the Eye of Horus was in combination with one or two Uraeus-cobras, the moon and the solar disk or depicted (one or two – the right and left eyes of Horus) between Wadjet and Nekhbet, who held it with their claws, tail or wings.