Ra /rɑː/ or Re /reɪ/ (Egyptian: 𓂋ꜥ, rˤ) is the ancient Egyptian solar deity. By the Fifth Dynasty (2494 to 2345 BC) he had become a major god in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the midday sun. The meaning of the name is uncertain, but it is thought that if not a word for 'sun' it may be a variant of or linked to words meaning 'creative power' and 'creator'.
The major cult centre of Ra was Heliopolis (called Iunu, "Place of Pillars", in Egyptian), where he was identified with the local sun-god Amun. Through Amun, or as Amun-Ra, he was also seen as the first being and the originator of the Ennead, consisting of Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys.
In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra was merged with the god Horus, as Re-Horakhty ("Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons"). He was believed to rule in all parts of the created world: the sky, the earth, and the underworld. He was associated with the falcon or hawk. When in the New Kingdom the god Amun rose to prominence he was fused with Ra as Amun-Ra . During the Amarna Period, Akhenaten suppressed the cult of Ra in favor of another solar deity, the Aten, the deified solar disc, but after the death of Akhenaten the cult of Ra was restored.
The cult of the Mnevis bull, an embodiment of Ra, had its centre in Heliopolis and there was a formal burial ground for the sacrificed bulls north of the city.
All forms of life were believed to have been created by Ra, who called each of them into existence by speaking their secret names. Alternatively humans were created from Ra's tears and sweat, hence the Egyptians call themselves the "Cattle of Ra." In the myth of the Celestial Cow it is recounted how mankind plotted against Ra and how he sent his eye as the goddess Sekhmet to punish them. When she became bloodthirsty she was pacified by mixing beer with red dye.
Ra and the sun
To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made the sun deity very important, as the sun was seen as the ruler of all that he created. The sun disk was either seen as the body or eye of Ra. Ra was the father of Shu and Tefnut, whom he created. Shu was the god of the wind, and Tefnut was the goddess of the rain. Sekhmet was the Eye of Ra and was created by the fire in Ra's eye. She was a violent lioness.
Ra in the underworld
Ra was thought to travel on two solar boats called the Mandjet (the Boat of Millions of Years), or morning boat and the Mesektet, or evening boat. These boats took him on his journey through the sky and the Duat, the literal underworld of Egypt. While Ra was on the Mesektet, he was in his ram-headed form. When Ra traveled in his sun boat he was accompanied by various other deities including Sia (perception) and Hu (command) as well as Heka (magic power). Sometimes members of the Ennead helped him on his journey, including Set, who overcame the serpent Apophis, and Mehen, who defended against the monsters of the underworld. When Ra was in the underworld, he would visit all of his various forms.
Apophis, the God of chaos, was an enormous serpent who attempted to stop the sun boat's journey every night by consuming it or by stopping it in its tracks with a hypnotic stare. During the evening, the Egyptians believed that Ra set as Anum or in the form of a ram. The Mesektet, or the Night boat, would carry him through the underworld and back towards the east in preparation for his rebirth. These myths of Ra represented the sun rising as the rebirth of the sun by the sky goddess Nut; thus attributing the concept of rebirth and renewal to Ra and strengthening his role as a creator god as well. When Ra was in the underworld, he merged with Osiris, the god of the dead, and through it became the god of the dead as well.
Ra as creator
With the Ancient Egyptian's complicated polytheistic beliefs, Ra was worshiped as the creator god to some Ancient Egyptians, specifically his followers at Heliopolis. It was believed that Ra wept, and from the tears he wept came man. These cult-followers believed that Ra was self-created, while followers of Ptah believed that Ra was created by Ptah. It is believed that this is the reason for pyramids of Old Kingdom worshipers at Heliopolis rarely mentioning Ra. In a passage of the Book of the Dead, Ra cuts himself, and his blood transforms into two intellectual personifications: Hu, or authority, and Sia, or mind. Ra is also accredited with the creation of the seasons, months, plants, and animals.
Ra was represented in a variety of forms. The most usual form was a man with the head of a hawk and a solar disk on top and a coiled serpent around the disk. Other common forms are a man with the head of a beetle (in his form as Khepri), or a man with the head of a ram. Ra was also pictured as a full-bodied ram, beetle, phoenix, heron, serpent, bull, cat, or lion, among others.
He was most commonly featured with a ram's head in the Underworld. In this form, Ra is described as being the "ram of the west" or "ram in charge of his harem.
In some literature, Ra is described as an aging king with golden flesh, silver bones, and hair of lapis lazuli.