Aquatic Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

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A symbol is a “mystery’s epiphany” (Gilbert Durand). In that sense, symbols do not have a “meaning” per se but rather evoke multiple senses, which cannot be reduced to a single definition. The daily expression of the symbol, function of which is mainly to reconcile the human being with the universe, is the symbolic language; composed by central metaphors. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to show how water can be regarded as a vital symbol and a metaphor by the Ancient Egyptians. As stated by the historian of religion Mircea Eliade, the Waters pre-existed the Earth, hence it should be the first element we focus on. In fact, the Waters are fons et origo, being the means by which every creation takes place. The Ancient Egyptians perfectly assimilated this as they regarded their origins from the Primeval Waters, believing everything started in Nun, the primordial ocean that gave life to all living forces and beings, from gods to plants. The Nile, the river that enabled the continuing fertility of the Valley, was seen as the mimetic watercourse of Nun, sacred and eternal. Although it was true that the Waters opened the path to existence it was also undeniable that they represented the end of life, destruction and alienation. Each year, the Nile’s flood caused several damages, which partially explains why the Egyptians thought their apocalypse would be a return to the Waters. The destruction embodied a new beginning: after the flood subsided, the fields would be ready to be cultivated and once again the Egyptians would not starve. However, considering the water symbol in Ancient Egypt, it is also crucial to observe the other waterways; for instance, the Mediterranean Sea, an opportunity and a threat to the Nilotic people. It is precisely this complexity surrounding the Waters in Ancient Egypt that we intend to explore.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThinking Symbols
Subtitle of host publicationInterdisciplinary Studies
EditorsJoanna Popielska-Grzybowska, Jadwiga Iwaszczuk
Place of PublicationPułtusk
PublisherPultusk Academy of Humanities
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)978-83-7549-311-5
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameActa Archaeologica Pultuskiensia


  • Ancient Egypt
  • Waters
  • Nile
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Red Sea


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