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Egyptian mythology is made up of the stories and characters that were part of the religion of ancient Egypt, the first known civilization on earth. Much of the folklore involves stories of mortals encountering the major gods of their religion, or stories of how the gods came to create different parts of the natural world through magic. Some of the major elements of Egyptian mythology are things like their reverence of kings, their worship of the sun, and multiple gods that were sometimes part animal. The Nile River and the lotus flower, both representing fertility and life, were considered sacred. Their belief in life after death was also behind many of their myths and rituals.
When many people consider ancient Egypt today, they often think of King Tutenkhamun — King Tut — and mummies. Kings such as Tut were honored and revered during their lives and after their deaths. The people in pre-dynastic Egypt, before about 3100 BC, regarded their kings as gods. Later, Egyptians thought of kings as sort of middle-men between them and the gods. Most Egyptian gods were believed to walk among the people at times, and even have problems and worries just like them.
One common theme in Egyptian mythology is the combination of humans and animals. Many of their gods were part beast, like Anubis, who was often shown with the head of a jackal. Another major god, Horus, was depicted with the head of a hawk. Likewise, the Great Sphinx that Egyptians built in Giza is made up of the body of a lion with a human's head. These and many of the almost 2,000 known Egyptian gods have been extensively written about in literature, poetry and scholarly works through the years.
Egyptian mythology is rooted in a strong belief in the importance of preparation for the afterlife. They mummified the dead to keep them from decomposing, so the souls could recognize their bodies after burial and move on to the next life. To them, the sun rising each morning was a recreation of the beginning of the world. Their sacred Nile River symbolized fertility and new life. The lotus flower, the only one we know of that blooms and bears fruit at the same time, is also an important symbol of fertility and renewal in ancient Egyptian mythology.
A study of ancient Egypt's language and cultures helps give researchers insight into the way the people thought of the world around them. Legends of their major gods, such as Isis, Anubis, Horus and Ra, are not generally still held as part of a religious belief, but have become more popular in folktales and myth. Almost every piece of Egyptian mythology that is well known today had its origins during a 3000-year period; this highly religious part of Egypt's ancient history began in what is called early dynastic Egypt, around 3100 BC. It was during this era that the great pyramids were built, with the major symbols of their religion painted inside them and carved into the walls.