Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Known to his worshipers as both "he who makes green" and "raging one", the Ancient Egyptian crocodile god Sobek remains somewhat of a mystery.

His name, in direct translation, means simply crocodile and he was never represented in art without at least the head of that fearsome beast. He was a god of water and in particular the life-giving River Nile. The thing he "made green" was the land through the growth of plants and Sobek doubtless had some role in the annual flooding of the river. In fact, according to Richard H. Wilkinson in his book The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, the river was said to be made of Sobek's sweat.

It probably goes without saying that his sacred places were sandbars, marshes and any other locations where crocodiles might reside. Wilkinson tells us the Sobek was also known as the "Lord of Bakhu". Bakhu was a kind of Shanghai-La at the far edge of the world. It was conceived as an insurmountable mountain and it was near its crest that Sobek was thought to have a vast palace made entirely of carnelian. It may be for this reason that carnelian amulets in the shape of crocodiles were carried - by those who could afford them - to gain Sobek's favor and protection. Less expensive crocodiles made of pottery have also been found and jewelry, particularly necklaces, featuring crocodiles seem to have been worn by many Ancient Egyptians.

In the New Kingdom era, Sobek was thought to be a protector of the Pharaoh and his family. In this permutation he was often attached to other "royal" gods such as Amen, Osiris and the sun god Re in particular. This led to the personification Sobek-Re and probably also led to the Greeks syncratizing Sobek with their minor sun god, Helios.

Sobek was thought to be the son of the most warlike of Ancient Egyptian goddesses, Neith and his personal ferocity did not end with the association with crocodiles. He was said to "take women from their husbands whenever he wishes according to his desire." Some historians see this as a sign of Sobek ruling over virility and male fertility. It may be, however, that he is also - or alternatively - a god of the rapine and pillage that accompanies war.

Temples of Sobek were built throughout Egypt and, of course, most often located on the river. At Kom Ombo, where his consort was designated as the cow-shaped love goddess Hathor, sacred pools held crocodiles who were treated like kings in life and mummified with all ceremony after their deaths. By the New Kingdom, almost all of Sobek's temples had sacred crocodiles.

The worship of Sobek seems to have continued into the Greek era and the Ptolemy dynasty. After Egypt became a Roman possession, however, Sobek - like so many of his brother and sister deities - fell from favor. How fortunate we are that, through the work of archaeologists and historians, we can know Sobek and all those other gods once again.

Header: Sobek Protecting Amenhotep III from the Luxor Museum via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

Sobek starts out as a "bad guy" in the Rick Riordan "Kane Chronicles" books, but ends up being a "good guy" fighting against Apophis (chaos)...

Pauline said...

From a New Kingdom religious perspective, he would be a "good guy" given the gods he "hung out" with - Amen, Osiris, Re. So yeah; that makes sense.