Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 129This obtained chiefly in the Deltaic cities, such as Hermopolis, Lycopolis, and Mendes, the last named being the most famous shrine. The origin of this worship was merely that of a local and tribal animal god, but, persisting through the changing civilization, it became of more than local influence as the city grew in wealth and importance, while the priesthood were among the most wealthy and powerful in Egypt, and the animal god was identified "first with the indigenous god Osiris, secondly with the sun-god Ra, and thirdly with the great Ram-god of the South and Elephantine, i.e. Khnemu."
Greek writers furnish us with much graphic material concerning these animal cults, as in some instances they were eye-witnesses of the ritual connected with them. Herodotus states that the god Pan and another goat-like deity were worshipped with a wealth of symbolic display and gorgeous rite as gods of generation and fecundity. As in many countries where animal worship obtained the beast chosen for adoration was picked from a number because of certain distinguishing marks upon its hide, was enthroned with much pomp and received an imposing public funeral on its decease.
On the stele of Mendes deciphered by Mariette was found an inscription stating that Ptolemy II Philadelphus rebuilt the temple of Mendes and assisted in person at the enthronement of two Rams, and in a relief on the upper portion of this stele are to be seen the figures of two royal Ptolemies and an Arsinoë making offerings to the Ram and his female counterpart Hatmehit.
The crocodile was the incarnation of the god Sebek. It would seem beyond doubt that abject fear was the primal origin of the worship of this repulsive creature, and the idea that its evil and menacing traits might be averted by propitiation, for in the dry season these reptiles wandered over the cultivated lands and devoured all at will. Later, beneficent attributes were ascribed to it, but the dark side always persisted. In the benign aspect he is connected with Ra, and again with Osiris, though in legendary lore he is both the friend and foe of Osiris. One version tells how a crocodile carried the dead body of Osiris safely to land upon its back, whilst another relates that only by Isis placing Horus in a little ark woven of papyrus reeds was she able to protect him against the attacks of the malevolent Sebek. This clearly identifies him with Set, the murderer of Osiris, and in this connexion the powers of darkness are symbolized by four crocodiles, who are shown in the Book of the Dead as menacing the deceased. Whilst still living, men sought deliverance from these horrible shapes of the underworld by means of incantations.
But again he is said to be beneficent to the dead, and in the Pyramid Texts it is Sebek who restores sight to the eyes of the deceased, who, indeed, revives all his faculties, is his guide in the untried new life, and helps him to overthrow Set, the evil one who preys upon every 'Osiris.' In this character he is the helper and protector of the child Horus. But his characters are multiple, and he is to be found participating in the rites of all the other gods of the Egyptian pantheon.