Harum Scarab


The ancient Egyptians seemed to have a god for every kind of animal with which they were familiar, some of which were quite prominent and others more obscure. The scarab beetle was a common symbol in Egypt, used for many different sorts of amulets.

One kind, the heart scarab, was used in the mummification process and symbolized the heart that had to be weighed against a feather.

The beetle god was known as Khepri, and was associated with the Sun. A lot of Egyptian gods were solar deities, and as different local religions merged, some gods were seen as aspects of others. Khepri came to be associated specifically with the rising sun, and hence an alternate persona for Ra or Atum.

While Ra rode across the sky in a boat, however, Khepri was thought to push it along like a scarab pushing a ball of dung.

That says something about what his followers must have thought of the Sun. (“It’s too hot today! The Sun is shit!”) Also, as scarabs laid their eggs in dung, the young were thought to generate spontaneously. As such, Khepri was a self-created god. This linked him to the cycle of new life, which can also be seen with the Sun appearing to die every night and come back to life in the morning. The word for the scarab was kheprer, while kheper meant “to come into being,” so there was sort of a pun involved there. Speaking of language, the word “scarab” sounds kind of mystical, like “dung beetle” comes across as an ethnic slur. Then again, “scarab” also sounds kind of like both “scar” and “scab.” I believe it actually originates from the Greek karabos. A lot of names associated with Egypt also came to Europe and the Americas by way of Greek. While the first known mention of Khepri is in the Pyramid Texts from around the twenty-fourth century BC, images of scarabs with possible religious functions were known to be much older. There’s no evidence of a specific cult of Khepri, but many temples had beetle statues that were likely associated with him. What’s strange about common depictions of Khepri is that they show him not with the head of a beetle, but rather with an entire beetle taking the place of his head. It looks like an ancient way of blurring out someone’s face.

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This entry was posted in Animals, Egyptian, Etymology, Language, Mythology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Harum Scarab

  1. The idea of ancient Egyptians complaining “It’s too hot today! The Sun is shit!” is making me giggle. A lot.

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