Neteru: Gods of Ancient Egypt

The deities of ancient Egypt, or neteru [] (sing. neter []), were the core of ancient Egyptian religion and culture for over 3000 years, a scope of time nearly inconceivable to our modern sensibilities. The only other human culture with a plausible claim to such persistence of belief would be the Jainism and Hinduism of India.


For the ancient Egyptians the core concept, around which all of their beliefs orbited, was that of balance, or Ma’at [ or ], personified as a goddess who regulated the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, and who set the order of the universe from the moment of creation. Despite their diverse functions, most neter had an overarching role in common: maintaining ma’at – those that did not share this goal represented disruption and chaos, constantly threatening to annihilate the order of the universe.

The roles of each deity were fluid, and each god could expand their nature to take on new characteristics as the culture shifted over time, and the prominence of locations and their patron deities evolved. Neteru were syncretized or sub-divided to reflect changing beliefs; a god could be called the ba [] (an aspect of the soul) of another, or two or more deities could be joined into one god with a combined name and iconography. Local lesser gods were linked with greater ones, and deities with similar functions were combined, or sometimes supplanted each other in preeminence – for instance, there are a number of distinct neter that lay claim to the title “Creator of the World”. As a result, gods’ roles are difficult to categorize or define, but despite their flexibility, the neteru had limited abilities and spheres of influence, and did not exhibit omnipotence or omniscience.

The neteru were considered to be immanent; moving from the divine realm to dwell in their temples where they inhabited their cult statues allowing mortals to nourish them through the presentation of offerings, sacrifices, spells, and rituals. These offerings, in addition to maintaining ma’at for the gods, celebrated deities’ life-giving generosity and encouraged them to remain benevolent rather than vengeful. Rituals for a neter were often based in that deity’s mythology, and as such the rituals were meant to be repetitions of the events of the mythic past, renewing the beneficial effects of the original events. In this manner the worshipers reminded the gods of their role in maintaining ma’at and through their offerings empowered the neteru with the fundamental power of heka [] (magic) so they could continue to perform their vital functions to maintain order in the cosmos and sustain all living things.

In conjunction with these day-to-day immanent roles, the collected mythological stories of the ancient Egyptians told the tales of the gods’ actions during a mythic prehistory when the gods walked in material form on earth and interacted directly with mortals. Although many of these myths contain seemingly contradictory ideas, each expresses a particular perspective on divine events and they are rife with symbolic meaning. The contradictions in myth are as much a part of the Egyptians’ many-faceted approach to religious belief as they are a reflection of the millennia over which they were told, retold, and interpreted – testament to their comfort with a “multiplicity of approaches” to understanding the divine.

In myth, the neteru behave much like humans: they feel emotion; they can eat, drink, fight, fuck, weep, sicken, and die. Some have unique character traits or flaws: Ra [], the sun god, is pompous and self-important; Set [], god of chaos and the desert, is aggressive and impulsive; Thoth [], patron of writing and knowledge, is prone to long-winded speeches; Isis [], goddess of motherhood and magic, is sly and crafty, poisoning the superior god Ra and refusing to cure him until he reveals his secret name to her, thus granting her and her son, Horus [], greater knowledge and power.

Egyptian writings describe the gods’ bodies in detail – they are composed of precious materials; their flesh is gold, their bones silver, and their hair made of lapis lazuli, and they emit a scent that the Egyptians likened to the incense used in rituals. Some texts give precise descriptions of particular deities, including their height and eye color, yet these characteristics are not fixed; in myths, gods change their appearances to suit their own purposes. The Egyptians’ visual representations of their gods are therefore not literal. They symbolize specific aspects of each deity’s character, functioning much like the ideograms in hieroglyphic writing. This elucidates why the funerary god Anubis [] is commonly shown in Egyptian art as a dog or jackal, a creature whose scavenging habits threaten the preservation of buried mummies: the portrayal is an effort to counter this threat and employ it for protection. His black coloring alludes not to the coloration of the fur of the jackal, but to the color of mummified flesh, as well as to the fertile black silt deposited by the annual Nile floods that Egyptians saw as a symbol of resurrection.

In this series, I have attempted to amalgamate elements of the ancient Egyptian artistic canon with the dynamic human form, and infuse the resulting works with both personality (ba []) & spirit (ka []) in a manner that, I hope, will bring them to life for the viewer…

Each sculpture is available in one of two different color palates: one Black with 24 k. Gold Leaf counter-point, the other using Colored Patinas to reflect the traditional pigments used in portraying the neter in ancient Egyptian tomb and temple wall-paintings, also with Gold and Silver Leaf accents.