The Eye of Ra is an ancient Egyptian icon, found in Egyptian art, hieroglyphs, and carvings. The eye was believed to be able to see anything.
It’s meaning can vary depending on who you ask, but for this blog post we will talk about what the eye represented in Egyptian mythology, as well as how it contributed to stories and myths surrounding Ra.
Let’s dive straight in.
- What is the Eye of Ra?
- The Meaning of the Eye of Ra
- The Eye of Ra in Ancient Egyptian Mythology
- The Eye of Ra vs. the Eye of Horus
- The History and Origins of the Eye of Ra
- The Roles of the Eye of Ra
- Modern Day Worship of the Eye of Ra
- The Ankh and the Eye of Ra
- Where to Learn More About Ancient Egypt
- Additional Questions about the Eye of Ra
- Bibliography and Further Reading
Also, don’t forget to visit our Egyptian Mythology hub, where we have a LOT more articles like this one.
What is the Eye of Ra?
The Eye of Ra is an ancient Egyptian symbol. Although it was present in many different forms, from hieroglyphs to carvings, the most well-known depiction would be a human eye with a teardrop coming out of it.
It sometimes stands on its own and sometimes is equated with other goddesses. Some of its personifications include:
In some cases, the eye acts in multiple female-related relationships to the God Ra, such as mother, sibling, consort, and even daughter. So her role is multi-faceted.
The Eye of Ra/Re/Rah has been called the “eye of truth,” because it was believed to be able to see anything, and nothing could escape its watchful gaze.
Some say the eye is simply a metaphor for the sun, and that it is the Eye of Ra (the Sun God) looking out onto his creation.
The teardrop coming from the eye might also signify a few things- one being water or rain falling from heaven, referring to one of the Eye of Ra’s roles in fertility and rebirth.
The Eye of Ra is independent of Ra himself and can be seen as a separate entity. It is also considered a female symbol, whereas Ra is considered male.
The Meaning of the Eye of Ra
It’s important to be careful when identifying the meaning and purpose of a symbol, as they can often have multiple uses throughout the years.
Typically, the Egyptian Eye of Ra represented the destructive power of the sun, which nevertheless was one of the most important parts of Egyptian life. This is because it represented all life, since without the sun they would not be able to grow crops and live as a society.
It also represents truth and justice, and its power over nature (life) is seen in many places throughout Egyptian history. It was often used as a symbol of royal authority, along with the crook and flail.
The Eye of Ra was also believed to be able to see anything, which is why it was often placed above doorways or entrances in temples- so that no one could escape its watchful gaze.
Its destructive power can also be seen as a warning against evil deeds; if you did something wrong, then the Eye of Ra would see you and punish you.
The Eye of Ra in Ancient Egyptian Mythology
There are many different myths involving the Eye of Ra.
Tefnut and Shu
In one of those myths, Ra’s children, known as Tefnut and Shu, disappeared. Consumed by grief, Ra sent out his eye to look for his children, which was able to locate them and reunite them with Ra.
While this happened, Ra grew a new eye in place of his first one. When his first reappeared, it felt betrayed and upset, so in order to appease the eye, Ra turned it into a uraeus and wore it on his forehead.
In another Egyptian myth, when Ra became enraged at the way humans had become, he sent out his eye to punish them. It would go on a rampage and kill most of mankind, so Ra made his eye drink red beer until it passed out from drunkenness.
In this case, the eye had become Sekmet, the fearsome Egyptian goddess. It was only after passing out from the alcohol that the eye was able to calm down and return to Ra.
The Eye of Ra vs. the Eye of Horus
The Eye of Ra is similar to the Eye of Horus, so they are often confused, but it also has key differences.
The Eye of Ra represents the right eye and the sun, while the Eye of Horus represents the left eye and the moon.
The two eyes together represent balance and harmony, but also protection from evil entities or bad things that might happen to a person.
Horus was a sky god associated with life and fertility- he had many different forms, such as falcon or human, which came together in syncretism (the combination of religious beliefs) to create something new.
Whereas Ra was a sun god, and was therefore associated with life-giving power and destruction, as was his eye.
The History and Origins of the Eye of Ra
Just imagine. You’re in ancient Egypt, surrounded by towering pyramids and ornate hieroglyphics. The sun is setting, casting long shadows across the desert landscape. As you look up, you see the sun and the moon—two celestial bodies that the ancient Egyptians revered as the ‘eyes’ of their gods. This belief is likely where the concept of the Eye of Ra originates.
The Eyes in the Sky
Historically, the earliest indication of this belief is found in the Pyramid Texts, a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the Old Kingdom. Both the Eye of Horus and the Eye of Ra are mentioned here. Now, you might be wondering, “What’s the difference?”
Horus, a sky god, had two eyes—the right representing the sun and the left, the moon. Imagine the power of embodying both day and night! However, over time, the roles of these eyes evolved. In later periods, the sun eye was often associated with Ra, the sun god, while Horus retained the moon eye.
The Divine Duality
Interestingly, both the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Horus use the same symbol. The key difference? The images are reversed. One signifies the right eye, the other, the left. It’s as if the two gods are looking out at us from the heavens, one eye for each.
The Mythic Connection
Yet, what truly intrigues scholars is the deeper mythic connection between these two eyes. The tales of Horus and Ra share a fascinating similarity—both gods lose their respective eyes. This parallel led scholar Katja Goebs to propose an intriguing theory. According to her, these overlapping narratives suggest that the myths of both eyes originate from the same “mytheme”—a fundamental unit of mythological narrative.
The Roles of the Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra had multiple roles in Egyptian mythology.
The Eye of Ra was generally seen as a solar symbol or a Ra symbol. It represented the right eye of the sun god. Eyes in general were seen as symbols of sight and perception, but the idea that this eye had the power to see anything made it more powerful. As mentioned earlier, this is one reason why the eyes were placed over the entrances to temples.
In some myths, the Eye of Ra played a procreational role. The symbolism of Ra (the sun) emerging from the east and setting in the west is often seen as a metaphor for the beginning of new life.
This is not unique to Ra though, many other sun gods have been viewed similarly throughout history with their eyes being symbols of fertility or birth (like Horus).
We see this strongly in the story of Ra’s search for his children Tefnut and Shu. When Ra was finally reunited with his children, his tears fell to the ground and became the first people, thus showing the link between the Eye of Ra and procreation.
The Eye of Ra can be seen to have had two types of protective roles in Egyptian mythology. The eye was seen as both a protector, warding off the forces of chaos, and an aggressive force, seeking out enemies.
We see this in the myth of Sekhmet when she, in the role of the eye, laid waste to humanity. Thus we see the destructive nature of the Eye of Ra.
Modern Day Worship of the Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra is still worshipped to this day in the modern world.
There are many temples devoted specifically to worshiping or commemorating the eye, and there is a temple for Sekhmet located at Karnak which has been active since around the fifteenth century BCE.
Because of these places that hold such significance, they have become popular tourist destinations. The Temple of Hathor at Dendera, where she plays an important role as both Lady of Amentet and Mistress of Magic, attracts thousands every year who wish to see all aspects associated with her power.
Thus you can still find people worshipping and celebrating the Eye today! It’s quite interesting how something so old has continued to be held in such high regard.
The Ankh and the Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra is often associated with the ankh, a symbol that was also seen to have many meanings. The most commonly known meaning would be life or immortality, but there are others such as power and eternal action.
This connection lies in the fact that they were both symbols of protection from forces of chaos while still being able to stand up against them when needed.
In this way these two symbols became closely related despite their separate origins/meanings.
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Additional Questions about the Eye of Ra
There are a few extra questions that didn’t really fit above that we thought we’d answer here.
Is the Eye of Ra Good Luck?
Is the Eye of Ra Good Luck? This is a difficult question. Generally speaking, the Eye of Ra’s a symbol of protection, which can result in good luck. But the eye is not in itself a symbol of good luck.
Is the Eye of Ra also the same as the Evil Eye?
The Eye of Ra is not the same as the Evil Eye, which is also referred to as the nazar boncugu, and has Turkish origins. While both are protective symbols, the Evil Eye isn’t connected to any Ancient Egyptian religion. It is used more universally.
What Does an Eye of Ra Tattoo Symbolize?
An Eye of Ra tattoo is a symbol of protection and good luck. The tattoo itself may also demonstrate the wearer’s interest in Ancient Egyptian culture or mythology. And let’s not forget the other meanings of the eye, which are fertility, femininity, and danger.
What is the “Third Eye” and is it related to the Eye of Ra?
The third eye is generally considered to refer to the eye of Horus, because it was the third eye to be created after Ra’s first eye that was plucked out, and the second that grew in its place.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Egyptian Mythology Bibliography
- Armour, R., 2010. Gods and myths of Ancient Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press
- Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Clayton, M., 2017. Egyptian Mythology: A Fascinating Guide to Understanding the Gods, Goddesses, Monsters, and Mortals.
- Wilkinson, R., 2017. The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson.
- Lewis, S., 2018. Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Egyptian Myths, Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, and Monsters.