Sobek: Meet the Egyptian God of Fertility

13/04/2022

     Sobek is, in Egyptian Mythology, in addition to being associated with the power of the pharaoh and military victories, the God of Fertility, along with the deity Min. Learn more about this crocodilian god of Egypt.

Sobek in Egyptian Mythology:

     Sobek or Sebek, was an ancient Egyptian deity with a complex and elastic history and nature. He is associated with the Nile crocodile or the West African crocodile and is depicted in either his form or as a crocodile-headed human.

     Sobek was also associated with pharaonic power, fertility, and military prowess, but he additionally served as a protective deity with apotropaic qualities, invoked especially for protection against the dangers posed by the Nile.


Sobek's Story:

     Sobek enjoyed a long-standing presence in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, from the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2686-2181 BC) to the Roman period (c. 30 BC - 350 AD). He is first known from several different Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom. The spell, which praises the pharaoh as the living incarnation of the crocodile god, reads:

Unis is Sobek, green in plumage, with an alert face and an upturned brow, the one who splashed from the thigh and tail of the great goddess in the sunlight... Unis appeared as Sobek, son of Neith. Unis will eat with her mouth, Unis will urinate, and Unis will copulate with her penis. Unis is the semen lord, who takes their husbands' wives to the place Unis likes according to her heart's fancy.

Source:

     The origin of her name, Sobek in Egyptian, is debated among scholars, but many believe it to be derived from a causative of the verb "to impregnate". This statue of Sobek was found in the mortuary temple of Amenemhat III (which was attached to his pyramid at Hawara no Faiyum), serving as a testament to this king's devotion to Sobek. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

     This Late Period statue (c. 400-250 BC) shows Sobek carrying the falcon head of Re-Harakhti, illustrating the merging of Sobek and Re into Sobek-Re. Walters Museum of Art, Baltimore.

     Although Sobek was worshiped in the Old Kingdom, he actually rose to prominence in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055-1650 BC), particularly under the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III. Amenemhat III had a particular interest in Egypt's Faiyum, a region strongly associated with Sobek, the God of Fertility. Amenemhat and many of his dynastic contemporaries were involved in building projects to further Sobek - projects that were often carried out in the Faiyum.

     In this period, Sobek also underwent an important change: he was often merged with the falcon-headed god of divine royalty, Horus. This brought Sobek even closer to the kings of Egypt, thus giving him a higher place in the Egyptian pantheon. The fusion added a finer level of complexity to the god's nature, as he was adopted into the divine triad of Horus and his two parents: Osiris and Isis.


Protective Deity:

     It is from this association with healing that Sobek was considered a protective and fertile deity. His ferocity was able to ward off evil and, at the same time, defend the innocent. He was thus made a subject of personal piety and a common recipient of votive offerings, particularly in later periods of ancient Egyptian history. It was not uncommon, particularly in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, for crocodiles to be preserved as mummies for presentation at Sobek's cult centers. Sobek was also offered mummified crocodile eggs, intended to emphasize the cyclical nature of his solar attributes as Sobek-Ra. Likewise, crocodiles were created for religious reasons as living incarnations of Sobek.

     After their deaths, they were mummified in a grand ritual display as sacred but earthly manifestations of their patron god. This practice was performed specifically in the main temple of Crocodilópolis. These mummified crocodiles were found with baby crocodiles in their mouths and on their backs. The crocodile is one of the few reptiles seen to diligently care for its young, and often transports its young this way. The practice of preserving this aspect of the animal's behavior through mummification is likely intended to emphasize the protective and nurturing aspects of the fierce Sobek, as it protects the Egyptian people in the same way that the crocodile protects its young.

     In Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, a local monograph called the Book of Faiyum centered on Sobek, with a considerable portion devoted to the journey made by Sobek-Ra each day as the sun moved across the sky. The text also focuses heavily on Sobek's central role in creation as a manifestation of Ra, as he is said to have sprung from the primeval waters of Lake Moeris, not unlike Ogdoad in the traditional creation myth of Hermopolis.

     There are many varying copies of the book and many scholars think it was produced in large quantities as a "best seller" in antiquity. The integral relationship between the Faiyum and Sobek is highlighted throughout this text, and their far-reaching influence is also seen in localities outside the Faiyum; a part of the book is copied in the Temple of Upper Egypt (meaning southern Egypt) of Kom Ombo.

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