Gods – Aten

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Do you want to know who was Aten (or Aton), the god representing the Sun in the ancient Egyptian civilization? Do you want to know how Aten almost became the sole god of Egypt during the reign of a “heretic pharaoh”?

Fascinated by ancient Egypt, our team has prepared an article that answers these questions.

Aten is the “Sun disk god” of ancient Egypt: he is the incarnation of the Sun. The god Aten appears during the 25th century BC as a minor god of Egypt. However, it was in 1353 BC that Aten really entered the posterity by becoming the single god of Egypt throughout the reign of Akhenaten, the so-called “heretic pharaoh.”

In this article, you will discover:

  • The place of the solar god Aten in Egyptian mythology
  • The history of the “Cult of Aten” advocated by the pharaoh Akhenaten (who will progressively establish the replacement of all the gods by the unique and almighty Aten)
  • The great problem that Aten posed when he became the sole god of Egypt: the end of the myth of the “Weighing of the Heart”

At the end of this article, you will know everything about the god Aten and the Cult of Aten of Akhenaten.

Let’s start right away by presenting who Aten is according to Egyptian mythology.

1) Who was Aten?

Aten, the Sun disk god, is the personification of the Sun. Aten takes his name from the Egyptian word “yati” meaning “to be far away” (which obviously refers to the Sun high in the sky).

Clearly aware that the Sun is vital for life, the ancient Egyptians praised the multi-armed Sun disk called Aten very early in their history (from the year 2500 BC according to the Egyptian collection of texts called “Pyramid Texts”).

Aten is represented as a radiant sphere with long hands with which he bathes the world with his light, a necessary condition for plant, animal, and human life. In some representations, the Sun disk god has hands holding the Egyptian cross “ankh” (the Egyptian symbol of life) which seems to be stretched out to the earth to bring it food and fertility (thus representing the beneficial effects of the rays of the Sun).

Subsequently, in the course of the history of Egypt, more and more links appear between Aten and the kings of Egypt. According to ancient Egyptian legends, it is the pharaoh who controls the Sun: it is the pharaoh who orders the Sun to rise and set at the same times as he does.

Yet, if Aten is so famous in our modern society, it is because Aten became the one and only god of ancient Egypt during a small period of history: that of the “heresy of Akhenaten.”

2) The Cult of Aten

You now have a glimpse of the divinity embodying the Sun. Now let us discover the history of the establishment of the cult that placed him in the position of single god of Egypt.

A) The god Amun

In order to understand how Aten became the unique god of Egypt, one must understand the story of the almost “almighty” god he replaced: the god Amun.

Amun was initially the god of the creation of life. According to Egyptian mythology, there was only the original Darkness and the original Ocean at the beginning of our world. Then, through the repeated contacts between the Darkness and the Ocean was born the god Atum, the god representing the breath of life. Immediately after this event, responding to the call of Atum (i.e. the call of life),  the two gods Ra and Amun were born by their own will.

The falcon-headed Sun god Ra creates the Earth, the stars, and the Universe by harmoniously mixing the original Darkness and the original Ocean. It is thus he who creates the Sun Aten which he then places like a crown on his head to illuminate the Universe, having known until then only the night.

The god Amun creates life by changing himself into a goose to lay an egg. Then, Amun changes himself into a snake to hatch and fertilize this egg. He thus creates the first animal, vegetable, and human life forms.

During the New Kingdom of Egypt’s period (the period of Egypt from 1550 to 1069 BC), the god Amun will become more and more important in Egyptian beliefs. Amun will gradually become known in his form of Amun-Ra, i.e. a form in which he becomes one with the hawk Sun god Ra. Under this form, Amun is therefore responsible for the creation of the “Universe” in addition to the creation of “life.”

It was during the reign of Akhenaten’s grandfather and father (respectively Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III) that Amun became a god truly more important than all the others.

However, Egypt did not fall into a form of monotheistic religion since, despite his importance, Amun did not replace the other gods and goddesses (the jackal Anubis remained the god of death, the ibis Thoth remained the god of knowledge, the cat Bastet remained the goddess of women and joy, Bes remained the dwarf god of the home . . .).