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...
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In ancient Egyptian mythology and religion, Aker was a god who represented the earth and the horizon, embodying the strip of land where the earth met the sky at the two extremes of the east and west.
However, Aker’s role and symbolism extended far beyond just being a deity of the earth and horizon. He was integral to the Egyptians’ understanding of the daily cycle of day and night, the passage of the sun, and the concept of the underworld.
Aker was depicted in a unique way compared to most Egyptian deities. He was often portrayed as two lions sitting back-to-back, with one facing east and the other facing west. This representation symbolized the horizon; the point where the sun rises and where it sets.
The two lions were known as Sef (Yesterday) and Duau (Today), and they represented the past and the present, or the balance and continuity in the passage of time. Aker was also occasionally depicted as a narrow strip of land with a human or lion head at each end, reinforcing his connection to the horizon.
One of Aker’s primary roles was as a protector deity. He was crucial in safeguarding Ra, the sun god, on his nocturnal journey through the underworld.
The Egyptians believed that the sun died or was swallowed by the earth every sunset, and then it had to navigate the perilous underworld to rise again the next morning.
Aker assisted in this journey by allowing the sun to pass through his body after it set in the west and before it rose from his body in the east. This protective aspect extended to the dead, as he was believed to protect the deceased pharaohs and help them navigate the afterlife.
The idea of protection was so integral to Aker that he was considered a guardian of the borders of Egypt. It was believed he kept Egypt safe from potential chaos by guarding the two extremes of the horizon.
Furthermore, he was sometimes associated with the akhet, the hieroglyphic symbol representing the horizon that also symbolized the process of rebirth and rejuvenation, both for the sun and the souls of the dead.
Additionally, Aker’s image was used for amulets and other protective items, particularly in funerary contexts. Since he was associated with the earth, he had a chthonic aspect and was related to the underworld deities.
He also had a close relationship with other earth deities such as Geb, the god of the earth, and was sometimes involved in the resurrection of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, death, and resurrection.
Despite these significant roles, Aker was not the subject of a widespread cult nor did he have temples dedicated to him. Instead, he was more of a conceptual deity, representing and overseeing processes deemed fundamental to both the cosmic order and the continuation of life and death.
Aker’s presence in ancient Egyptian mythology underlines the complexity and fluidity of the pantheon, where deities could serve multiple purposes.
His existence ensured the safety of the sun’s cycle, the stability of time, the protection of geographical and spiritual borders, and the renewal of life—essential concepts that shaped the very core of ancient Egyptian culture and belief systems.