The Egyptian Scarab Beetle
The Egyptian Scarab Beetle was a symbol of death and rebirth. It. The theme of death and rebirth being so central in ancient Egypt, the scarab beetle was one of the most popular amulets in for hundreds of years, worn by both the living and the dead. Its popularity even reached beyond the borders of Egypt, to the east, where it was found imported and locally-crafted.
The reason scarab beetles were associated with reincarnation is because of how the dung beetle – which is what a scarab is called – behaved. It’s actually quite a fascinating sight to see! A female dung beetle lays its eggs in dung, and then rolls the egg infested dung on the ground until it becomes a smooth ball. This becomes not only the shelter for its young, but also provides them with food when they hatch.
As the ancient Egyptians observed this, they saw the ball of dung like a golden sun being pushed along the sky by a beetle. It was hot, and also became a source of life as the new beetles emerged from it.
And when the female beetle died, it seemed as though she was reincarnated from this golden sun, with the new beetles emerging from it as though it was reborn.
The Egyptian Scarab Beetle God – Khepri
The Egyptian scarab beetle is associated with the god Khepri, which comes from the ancient Egyptian word for scarab kheper. Kheper means “he who came forth” possibly because of how the newborn beetles emerged from the sun-like dung. These new beetles represented the sun at dawn, as it was also the young sun that came forth after night.
Khepri didn’t have his own cult center of worship, as he is more an aspect of the god Ra. He is the early morning version of the sun god Ra, while the god Atum was the evening sun, and Ra himself as the midday sun. In depictions, Khepri was shown as either a beetle, or a beetle-headed man.
He was a god of creation, again, from his link to the dung beetle’s ability to create life from the dung. And in connection to the way the dung was rolled along, Khepri was thought to roll the rising sun every day through the sky, over the horizon and then later down through the underworld to come out with it again the next day. This, of course, is another version of the god Ra’s daily voyage.
Egyptian scarabs were sometimes depicted with wings, or if they were carved from stone or made into pectorals, would also have wings. This is to associate them specifically with the god Khepri.
Uses of Scarabs
Thousands upon thousands of scarabs have been found, which means thousands more were crafted, making them one of the most common ancient Egyptian artifacts found. One of the reasons that may be is because they were used for several different purposes.
The first is that they were worn as amulets, though we’re not sure the exact purpose of a scarab amulet was. Possibly, like most other amulets, they were to give powers of protection or renewal for the wearer.
The next use was as seals carrying the name of the official. Royal scarabs were the most common, with the name of the pharaoh carved into the back. But scarabs with royal names were not only used as seals, or created for the pharaoh in particular. Some ancient Egyptians liked to have their own scarabs with the name of a king or (less commonly) queen that they admired or cherished.
Memorial, or commemorative, scarabs would be carved to mark important events such as diplomatic ties, hunting expeditions, the constructions of sites and the lineages of a pharaoh’s consorts. These types of scarabs are most notable from the reign of Amenhotep III.
And finally, we have the funerary scarabs, the most famous of which are the heart scarabs. Heart scarabs had certain parts of the Book of the Dead written on them then placed over the heart of the deceased. This would ensure that the heart would not give away the deceased’s secrets during final judgment by Osiris that could be held against him/her. Heart scarabs were usually made of green stone.
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