Mehen in Ancient Egyptian Mythology

Mehen, in ancient Egyptian mythology, is a serpent deity who had a protective and symbolic role in the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt.

Mehen was a protective serpent deity. Often depicted as a coiled serpent, he encircled Ra’s solar barque, providing a protective barrier against threats from the underworld. Image: Af, also known as Afu-Ra, symbolizes Ra in the form of a ram-headed deity during his voyage through the Duat, encompassing the underworld and 12 hours of night.

Below, World History Edu presents an overview of Mehen in Egyptian mythology and religion:

Protective Serpent

Mehen is often depicted as a serpent or a coiled serpent that encircles or envelops a solar barque, which is a boat-like representation of the sun god Ra’s journey through the sky. As a protective deity, Mehen acted as a barrier or shield against threats and chaos that could endanger Ra or his journey.

Role in Solar Mythology

Mehen is closely associated with Ra, the sun god, and his daily journey across the sky. In Egyptian mythology, the sun god’s journey was not only a symbol of the cycle of day and night but also a representation of the cosmic order and renewal. Mehen’s presence around the solar barque ensured the safe passage of Ra through the perils of the underworld (Duat) during the nighttime hours.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the sun god Ra travelled through the underworld (i.e. Duat) on his magical solar barque. Image: Ra on his daily voyage across the sky, adorned with the sun-disk

Other deities that ride along with Ra and Mehen

Throughout this journey, Ra is seated on the Mesektet barque, with Sia positioned to the left and at the front of the barque, while Heka stands on the right and behind it. The safety of this sacred expedition is ensured by the presence of the protective coiled serpent deity called Mehen.

READ MORE: Egyptian Deities Believed to Protect the Sun God Ra

Symbolism of Protection

The coiled serpent form of Mehen symbolized protection and defense. It was believed that Mehen’s encircling presence shielded Ra and other deities on the solar barque from the chaos and destructive forces that lurked in the underworld. This protection was essential for the continuity of life and the triumph of order over chaos.

Carving on a wall at the Temple of Isis on Philae Island, Egypt, depicting a procession of a barge, possibly a Mandjet barge model.

Ancient Depictions

Images of Mehen are found in various Egyptian artifacts and inscriptions, particularly in funerary contexts. These depictions often show Mehen in its serpent form, either coiled around the solar barque or in close proximity to it.

Mythological Context

Mehen’s role as a protective deity reflects the ancient Egyptian belief in the importance of order, balance, and protection in the cosmos. The journey of Ra and the challenges he faced in the Duat were metaphors for the eternal struggle between order and chaos, and Mehen played a part in maintaining that balance.

Mehen as a Board Game

Mehen is also known for lending its name to a popular ancient Egyptian board game called “Mehen.” In this game, players would move pieces representing the serpent Mehen and the solar barque. The game had symbolic and religious significance, possibly representing the journey of the sun god and the protective role of Mehen.

While the exact rules and strategies of Mehen are unclear, the game provides valuable insights into the leisure activities and symbolic beliefs of ancient Egyptians. Archaeological findings have included game boards and pieces, suggesting that it was a popular pastime during its time.

READ MORE: Major Events in Ancient Egyptian Mythology

Questions and Answers

Egyptian deity Mehen is often depicted as a serpent or a coiled serpent that encircles or envelops a solar barque.

What does Mehen symbolize in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion?

This deity symbolized the protective aspect of the cosmos, forming a shield around Ra to safeguard him from hostile forces, chaos, and malevolent spirits that lurked in the Duat. Mehen’s role was akin to that of a guardian, ensuring Ra’s safe passage through the underworld.

READ MORE: Creator Deities in Ancient Egyptian Mythology and Religion

Which other gods are linked to Mehen’s journey through the Duat?

Mehen is frequently portrayed alongside gods such as Ra (in his sun barque), Sia (representing perception and knowledge), and Heka (symbolizing magic and protection) during the voyage through the Duat.

READ MORE: List of Ancient Egyptian Deities and their Importance

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