The concept of cataclysm is very common in almost all mythologies and religions. It is when the god or gods decide that humanity is not serving them anymore and, thus, they order humanity’s destruction. Such a concept is not missing in ancient Egyptian mythology. Within the Book of the Heavenly Cow , an ancient Egyptian myth discovered etched into tomb walls and on papyrus, Egyptologists have been able to piece together the story of the Cataclysm of Ra.
A scene from the Book of the Heavenly Cow, which tells the story of the cataclysm of Ra, carved into the walls of the tomb of Seti I. (kairoinfo4u / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
The Cataclysm of Ra as Ancient Egyptian Creation Myth
The story of the Cataclysm of Ra, was told within the Book of the Heavenly Cow, inscribed onto the walls of the tombs of Tutankhamun, Seti I , Ramesses II and Ramesses II, and only papyrus sheets discovered within the tomb of Ramesses VI. According to the ancient Egyptian creation myth , men were created from the tears of the sun god Ra, often fused with Atum, who used to live on Earth and ruled his kingdom for many ages.
Nevertheless, once Ra grew old, men ceased worshipping him and rebelled against him, plotting to take over his throne. These actions naturally made Ra furious, and he called for a secret council with the other gods. Ra’s father, Nun, supported Ra’s anger and suggested that mankind should be punished. Ra’s daughter, the goddess Hathor, was selected for this mission.
Often seen as the personification of the Eye of Ra , this multi-tasking goddess was linked to pleasure, fertility, love, music, and beauty. Within the story of the Cataclysm of Ra, in one night she went out amongst humankind and—like a lion—began killing men, women and children in all the places they were hiding, striking and slaying mankind while drinking their blood.
A statue of the bloodthirsty Egyptian deity Sekhmet, a.k.a. Hathor, in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. (Roberto Venturini / CC BY 2.0 )
Ra’s Plan to Overcome Hathor
The actions of Hathor, who had taken on the persona of Sekhmet the Egyptian goddess of war known for her uncontrollable rage, threatened to completely destroy mankind, something that Ra did not want as he still wanted to rule them. In order to stop Hathor from continuing her slaughter, he devised a plan to trick her.
With the help of his faithful followers, Ra arranged for large quantities of beer to be mixed with red dye or pomegranate juice so that it would look like blood. Then they brought seven thousand jars of beer and poured the contents on the fields, flooding the fields where Hathor would return to continue her slaughter.
The next day, when Hathor returned to eliminate the rest of the humanity, she saw the large pool of blood. She started drinking from it until she became so drunk that she couldn’t remember why she was sent there, and when she returned to her father, Nun, she slept for many days.
As a result of this myth, during the festivals of Hathor and Sekhmet, people would drink beer blended with pomegranate juice in celebration of the salvation of mankind. The festival was also linked to the flooding of the Nile, which every year would turn the color of blood as silt was carried upstream.
A 14th century banquet scene from the tomb chapel of Nebamum, which includes imagery of music and dancing that alludes to Hathor. ( Public domain )
Ra’s Retreat to the Heavens
In the end, Ra was still disappointed by the rebellion of men. Nothing could have been as it was before, so he called for another council of the gods where he announced that he was going to retreat into the heavens, leaving the god Shu behind to assume his position of ruler over mankind.
It is obvious that Ra and the gods of ancient Egyptian mythology once lived with humans on Earth, ruling over them. This is not a new concept but a repeated pattern, and causes one to question if the gods of Egypt really existed and if so, who they were and what their true role was.
Was it only to rule mankind and demand their devotion and worship as virtual slaves, or to help humanity to evolve? Unfortunately, a good, long look at society, its wars and destruction, forces us to realize that there has not been any significant evolution.
Some have hypothesized that Ra, one of the oldest deities within the ancient Egyptian pantheon, was in fact an extraterrestrial. Indeed, Ra is often depicted as sailing through the sky on a “solar boat.” For ancient humans, who had never encountered advanced forms of technology, a being that could travel through the sky in a spacecraft would certainly appear to be a “god.” But if he were in fact an extraterrestrial, for what reason would he want people to worship him? And what was his purpose upon the earth?
Top image: The god Ra, depicted with the head of a falcon and a sun-disk inside a cobra resting on his head, etched into limestone. Source: Paolo Gallo / Adobe Stock
By John Black
Alford, A. F. 1997. Gods of the New Millennium . Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
Pinch, G. 2004. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt . Oxford University Press.
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