Aker: An Underworld Egyptian Deity Who Protected the Egyptian Pharaoh

Aker, often represented as Akeru in plural, is a complex and multi-faceted deity in ancient Egyptian religion. While not as universally recognized as deities like Osiris or Ra, Aker’s significance in the Egyptian cosmological framework is undeniable. This god of the earth and the horizon plays a vital role in several aspects of Egyptian beliefs, especially concerning the sun’s journey and the concept of the afterlife.

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Origins and Depiction

The origins of Aker are rooted in predynastic times, making him one of the older gods in the Egyptian pantheon. He is typically depicted as a pair of recumbent lion statues back-to-back, with one lion facing west (representing yesterday) and the other facing east (symbolizing tomorrow). This double-lion representation emphasizes his association with the duality of time – past and future – and his guardianship over the boundaries of the day.

Aker, ancient Egypt’s horizon deity, is represented by two lions symbolizing ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’. The sun-disk rises between them, illustrating transition. This imagery, found in New Kingdom tomb art and the Book of the Dead, often features the ‘sky’ hieroglyph above.

Role in Solar Cycle

A central aspect of Aker’s importance lies in his relationship with the sun god Ra. Every day, Ra would make a journey across the sky, providing light and life to the world.

However, the sunset marked the beginning of his perilous journey through the underworld, where chaotic forces sought to consume and disrupt his voyage.

Aker’s crucial role was to protect Ra during this vulnerable transition. As Ra descended into the netherworld at sunset, Aker would open the gates of the western horizon for him.

Similarly, he would protect Ra from malevolent entities in the underworld, ensuring that he emerged unscathed from the eastern horizon at sunrise. In some depictions, Aker is shown bearing the sun disc on his back, symbolizing his role in carrying Ra safely through the underworld.

Egyptian deities that protected Ra during his journey through the underworld

Protector of the Deceased

Aker’s protective attributes were not limited to Ra alone. In funerary texts and mortuary contexts, Aker is invoked as a guardian of the deceased. As the dead made their journey through the netherworld, facing challenges and adversities, Aker stood as a steadfast protector, ensuring their safe passage just as he did for Ra.

Aker’s association with Khepri

Aker, in Middle Kingdom’s Coffin Texts, takes over Kherty’s role, becoming the “ferryman of Ra in his nocturnal barque”, safeguarding the sun god on his nightly journey through the underworld.

In the renowned Book of the Dead, Aker plays a pivotal role in the rebirth of Khepri, the rising sun symbolized by a scarab beetle, ensuring Khepri’s safe passage through the underworld. In various depictions, Aker supports Ra’s nocturnal vessel. During a poignant journey where Aker hides Osiris’s deceased body within his womb, the earth god Geb offers protection to Aker.

Symbolism and Cosmology

In Egyptian cosmology, the earth and the heavens are interlinked, with the horizon serving as the boundary. Aker, as the god of the horizon, personifies this boundary. His association with the two lions, representing yesterday and tomorrow, showcases the Egyptian understanding of cyclical time. Every end has a new beginning, and even in death, there’s the promise of rebirth.

Did you know…?

Aker first emerged during Egypt’s 1st Dynasty under Pharaohs Hor Aha and Djer. A palette from Djer’s Abydos tomb depicts Aker consuming three hearts. Despite his significance, Aker’s primary cult center remains unidentified. His role was detailed in King Teti’s Pyramid Texts.

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Evolution Over Time

As with many ancient deities, Aker’s significance evolved over time. While his primary role remained consistent, his associations expanded to include other deities. For instance, in the New Kingdom, Aker began to be associated with the god of the underworld, Osiris. This alignment emphasized Aker’s protective role in the afterlife journey.

Moreover, the two lions representing Aker became individually identified as Ruty in later periods, with each lion being given distinct names and roles. Still, the core concept of protection, transition, and duality remained central to Aker’s representation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aker epitomizes the ancient Egyptian belief in protection during moments of vulnerability and transition, ensuring continuity, rebirth, and the eternal cycle of life and death. Through Aker, the ancient Egyptians found solace in the idea that there are guardians in the most challenging moments, guaranteeing the sun’s rise after its set and life after death.

How did the ancient Egyptians depict Aker?

Aker, in early representations, appeared as a lion’s torso with a gaping mouth. This evolved into two back-to-back lion torsos, each facing the opposite direction.

By the Middle Kingdom, these lions were individualized as Duaj (“yesterday”) and Sefer (“tomorrow”), symbolizing Aker’s watchfulness over both the past and the future. When presented as this duo, an emblem for “horizon” and a sun disc were placed between them. In subsequent depictions, Aker manifested as two conjoined sphinx torsos with human faces.

How does Aker protect the Egyptian pharaoh?

Aker, an ancient Egyptian earth god, initially served as the guardian of the “gate to the yonder site.” He shielded the deceased king from three demonic snakes: Hemtet, Iqeru, and Jagw. By “encircling” or burying the king, Aker protected him from the serpents’ toxic breath.

What deities was Aker often associated with?

Aker, an ancient Egyptian earth deity, was closely associated with another earth god, Geb. Their collaborative roles intertwined, further connecting Aker with Geb. Intriguingly, Aker also had links to Seth, often identified with the Set animal. This association is notable as Seth was typically characterized as a wind deity, not an earth-based one.

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