Egypt: The Secret Name of Ra

This story is part of the Ancient Egypt unit. Story source: Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907).




The Secret Name of Ra

Ra had many names that were not known unto gods or men, and he had one secret name which gave to him his divine power. The goddess Isis, who dwelt in the world as a woman, grew weary of the ways of mankind; she sought rather to be amidst the mighty gods. She was an enchantress, and she desired greatly to have power equal with Ra in the heavens and upon the earth. In her heart, therefore, she yearned to know the secret name of the ruling god, which was hidden in his bosom and was never revealed in speech.

Each day Ra walked forth, and the gods who were of his train followed him, and he sat upon his throne and uttered decrees. He had grown old, and as he spake moisture dripped from his mouth and fell upon the ground.

Isis followed after him, and when she found his saliva, she baked it with the earth on which it lay. In the form of a spear she shaped the substance, and it became a venomous serpent. She lifted it up; she cast it from her, and it lay on the path which Ra was wont to traverse when he went up and down his kingdom, surveying that which he had made. Now the sacred serpent which Isis created was invisible to gods and men.

Soon there came a day when Ra, the aged god, walked along the path followed by his companions. He came nigh to the serpent which awaited him, and the serpent stung him. The burning venom entered his body, and Ra was stricken with great pain. A loud and mighty cry broke from his lips, and it was heard in highest heaven.

Then spake the gods who were with him, saying: "What hath befallen thee?" and "What thing is there?"

Ra answered not; he shook; all his body trembled and his teeth clattered for the venom overflowed in his flesh as does the Nile when it floods the land of Egypt. But at length he possessed himself and subdued his heart and the fears of his heart.

He spake, and his words were: "Gather about me, ye who are my children, so that I may make known the grievous thing which hath befallen me even now. I am stricken with great pain by something I know not of . . . by something which I cannot behold. Of that I have knowledge in my heart, for I have not done myself an injury with mine own hand. Lo! I am without power to make known who hath stricken me thus. Never before hath such sorrow and pain been mine."

He spake further, saying: "I am a god and the son of a god; I am the Mighty One, son of the Mighty One. Nu, my father, conceived my secret name which giveth me power, and he concealed it in my heart so that no magician might ever know it and, knowing it, be given power to work evil against me.

"As I went forth, even now, beholding the world which I have created, a malignant thing did bite me. It is not fire, yet it burns in my flesh; it is not water, yet cold is my body and my limbs tremble. Hear me now! My command is that all my children be brought nigh to me so that they may pronounce words of power which shall be felt upon earth and in the heavens."

All the children of Ra were brought unto him as was his desire. Isis, the enchantress, came in their midst, and all sorrowed greatly, save her alone. She spoke forth mighty words for she could utter incantations to subdue pain and to give life unto that from which life had departed.

Unto Ra spake Isis, saying: "What aileth thee, holy father? . . . Thou hast been bitten by a serpent, one of the creatures which thou didst create. I shall weave spells; I shall thwart thine enemy with magic. Lo! I shall overwhelm the serpent utterly in the brightness of thy glory."

He answered her, saying: "A malignant thing did bite me. It is not fire, yet it burns my flesh. It is not water, yet cold is my body, and my limbs tremble. Mine eyes also have grown dim. Drops of sweat fall from my face."

Isis spake unto the divine father and said: "Thou must, even now, reveal thy secret name unto me for, verily, thou canst be delivered from thy pain and distress by the power of thy name."

Ra heard her in sorrow. Then he said: "I have created the heavens and the earth. Lo! I have even framed the earth, and the mountains are the work of my hands; I made the sea, and I cause the Nile to flood the land of Egypt. I am the Great Father of the gods and the goddesses. I gave life unto them. I created every living thing that moves upon the dry land and in the sea depths. When I open my eyes there is light; when I close them there is thick darkness. My secret name is known not unto the gods. I am Khepera at dawn, Ra at high noon, and Tum at eventide."

So spake the divine father, but mighty and magical as were his words, they brought him no relief. The poison still burned in his flesh and his body trembled. He seemed ready to die.

Isis, the enchantress, heard him, but there was no sorrow in her heart. She desired, above all other things, to share the power of Ra, and she must needs have revealed unto her his sacred name which Nu conceived and uttered at the beginning. So she spake to Ra, saying: "Divine father, thou hast not yet spoken thy name of power. If thou shalt reveal it unto me, I will have strength to give thee healing."

Hotter than fire burned the venom in the heart of Ra. Like raging flames it consumed his flesh, and he suffered fierce agony. Isis waited, and at length the Great Father spake in majesty and said, "It is my will that Isis be given my secret name, and that it leave my heart and enter hers."

When he had spoken thus, Ra vanished from before the eyes of the gods. The sun boat was empty, and there was thick darkness. Isis waited, and when the secret name of the divine father was about to leave his heart and pass into her own, she spake unto Horus her son and said: "Now, compel the ruling god by a mighty spell to yield up also his eyes, which are the sun and the moon."

Isis then received in her heart the secret name of Ra, and the mighty enchantress said "Depart, O venom, from Ra; come forth from his heart and from his flesh; flow out, shining from his mouth. . . . I have worked the spell. . . . Lo! I have overcome the serpent and caused the venom to be spilled upon the ground because the secret name of the divine father hath been given unto me. . . . Now let Ra live, for the venom hath perished."

So was the god made whole. The venom departed from his body and there was no longer pain in his heart or any sorrow.


(1200 words)







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