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Osiris and the Four Sons of Horus.jfif

Issue 01

Divine Creatures:
Animal Cults in Ancient Egypt

July, 2022

The origin of Egyptian animal cults dates back to the beginning of dynastic Egypt in 3100 B.C. The fertile Nile valley nurtured ancient Egyptians and a wide variety of animals. For Egyptians, animals enchanted the mundane space and filled the blanks of the unknown world with divinities and fantasies. They brought these animals and their characteristics into the spiritual realm, depicting them either as animal forms or as animal-human amalgam. Viewed as manifestations of the divine, animals played an important role in Egyptian’s religious activities and even secular lives. 


As the kingdoms of Egypt changed and developed, the animal cults gained increasing importance. During the troubled times when the country was progressively being drawn into the Mediterranean world, animal deities can be seen as an attempt to return to traditional core values, providing a means of more immediate contact between gods and people while reassuring the unsettled hearts. By the end of the Ptolemaic period in the first century B.C., animal cults began to fall out of favor. During Roman rule and the expansion of Christianity into Egypt, the old gods were abandoned. 

Today, the discovery of the sacred animal artifacts traces a historical space where animals’ power, grace, and strength were revered and worshiped. Divine Creatures: Animal Cults in Ancient Egypt invites audiences to take a closer look at the sacred menagerie and unlock the secrets of Egyptian religion and mythology.

The Gayer-Anderson Cat

Date: 600 BCE
Place: Egypt
Medium: Bronze, Silver, Gold
Dimension: 42 × 20 × 30.5 cm (16 1/2 × 7 4/5 × 12 in.)
Source: The British Museum

Donation stela: Apries offers land to Bastet

Tomb Painting

Date: c. 1350 BCE
Place: Egypt
Medium: Plaster
Dimension: 22 × 98 × 115 cm (8 4/5 × 38 1/2 × 45 1/5 in.)
Source: The British Museum

Date: 589–570 BCE
Place: Egypt
Medium: Limestone
Dimension: H. 2.3 × W. 1.7 cm (7/8 × 11/16 in.)
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Statuette of a Jackal

Date: Late Period, Dynasty 26 (664-525 BCE)
Place: Egypt 
Medium: Copper alloy
Dimensions: 9.5 × 17.5 × 5.1 cm (3 1/2 × 6 7/8 × 2 in.)
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago


Date: 664–30 BCE
Place: Egypt 
Medium: Cupreous metal
Dimensions: L. 5.1 × W. 1.1 × H. 3.3 cm (1 5/16× 7/8 × 7/8 in.)
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Canopic Jar

Date: ca. 750–700 B.C.
Place: Egypt 
Medium: Limestone
Dimensions: H. (with lid) 36.8 cm (14 1/2 in.); Greatest diam. 13.2 cm (5 3/16 in.)
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Coffin Footboard with Apis bull carrying mummy

Date: ca. 750–525 B.C.
Place: Egypt
Medium: Wood, paint, cloth, paste
Dimensions: H. 21 × W. 29.4 × Th. 2.4 cm (8 1/4 × 11 9/16 × 15/16 in.)
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Statue of Apis Bull

Date: Ptolemaic Dynasty or earlier (400-100 BCE)
Place: Egypt
Medium: Serpentinite
Dimensions: H 52.5 cm
Source: Cleveland Museum of Art