When one thinks of ancient Egyptian symbols, one of the first that comes to mind is surely the eye symbol we see everywhere. We need to be careful, though, as it is easy to confuse the Eye of Ra with the Eye of Horus (also known as the Egyptian Eye).
The Eye of Ra, also known as the Eye of Re/Rah, is an ancient Egyptian symbol used to represent the goddess considered to be the female counterpart of the sun god, Ra.
The Eye of Ra is believed to be a force that uses violence to subdue and control its enemies. Though the eye is an extension of Ra, associated with the disk shape of the sun, it’s also an independent entity that can be used to personify a variety of Egyptian goddesses such as Mut, Bastet, Hathor, Wadjet, and Sekhmet.
Though it was typically thought of as a violent, destructive force, the symbol representing the eye was also used for protection and inscribed on amulets and/or walls.
The eye goddess is considered as the mother, daughter, sister, and companion of the sun god. She partners with him in the creative cycle after which he is reborn again at every dawn.
The violent aspects of the eye are employed to defend Ra against any agents of disorder that would try to dethrone from him. Many times, these aspects of the eye goddess are represented using a cobra or lioness, symbols of royal authority and protection.
The Eye of Ra can be seen in various different parts of the ancient Egyptian religion, primarily, the practices of cults that belong to the goddesses associated with it. These cultists performed temple rituals to celebrate its life-giving power and invoked the dangerous aspects to protect their sacred places, their pharaoh, ordinary people and the places they lived.
Myths About the Eye of Ra
There are several different Egyptian myths involving the Eye of Ra symbol. According to one of those myths, Ra’s children, named Tefnut and Shu, disappeared one day. So, Ra, being a devoted father, plucked out his eye and sent it looking for his children. The eye was able to locate them and bring them back to him.
While his eye was out looking for his children, he grew a new one in its place. His eye felt betrayed and upset about this. In order to make his eye happy again, Ra turned it into a uraeus and wore it on his forehead.
The second myth tells us that Ra got upset with the way humans were treating him, so he sent his eye out to punish them. The eye went on a rampage laying waste on humans. The other gods were afraid that the eye was going to end the humanity, so Ra made his eye drink red beer until it passed out. Only after that, the eye calmed down and came back to Ra.
A Different Take on the Eye of Ra Symbol – Two Cobras?
There are many people who believe that the Egyptians symbolize the Eye of Ra with exactly the same image that is used to symbolize the Eye of Horus. However, these are quite different symbols representing different things.
On a side note, some scholars suggest that a sun-disc surrounded by two uraeus cobras is the actual symbol for the Eye of Ra.
The Meaning of the Eye of Ra Symbol
For the Egyptians, the Eye of Ra was a representation of the sun. It was mostly associated with the destructive power possessed by the sun. However, the Egyptians also saw it as a symbol of royal authority and used it as a symbol of protection both for themselves and the buildings they occupied.
Worshipping the Eye of Ra
In regard to the worship of the goddesses, the Eye of Ra played a major role. It was viewed as personifications of those goddesses.
Egyptians considered the Eye of Ra as the symbol representing the mother, sister, daughter, and companion of Ra. They celebrated the life-giving aspects of the Eye of Ra by conducting rituals. Some of the rituals were held during the New Year in celebration of the return of the eye to Egypt and the Nile floods arriving after a drought.
In addition, the dangerous aspects of the eye were also celebrated by the Egyptians. They would use the Eye of Ra symbols to invoke the protection of the gods.
Egyptians held the belief that their queen was the physical personification of the goddesses that were connected to the Eye of Ra. Most of the time, the queens would wear a headdress very similar to the one that was worn by the goddesses in their images.
The Eye of Ra versus the Eye of Horus (the Egyptian Eye)
Though the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus are very similar, they are personified by different gods/goddesses. The Eye of Horus is a peaceful, protective force while the Eye of Ra is a protective force that uses violence and destruction.
The Eye of Ra symbolizes protection that comes from power, violence, and fury while the eye of Horus symbolizes regeneration, healing, and divine protection from the gods. As an example of the destructive force represented by the Eye of Ra, one of the most popular motifs in Egyptian mythology shows the goddess of the eye rampaging out of control and the sun god trying to rein her in.
The Eye of Ra is often confused with the Eye of Horus (the Egyptian Eye) as the two symbols look very similar to each other. The difference is the Eye of Ra symbol is drawn as a right eye while the Eye of Horus is drawn as Horus’ left eye.
Before we wrap it up, here are the two articles about Egyptian symbols and the Eye of Horus, respectively, if you would like learn more about those:
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