10 Writing Prompts from Egyptian Mythology
There are few areas of human history as interesting as Ancient Egypt. For me it’s the age, the time involved. There were Ancient Egyptians living in the shadow of already ancient monuments. They have so many deities and figures to include in their stories it’s hard to keep track. So much time passed that things changed, gods took on new roles and pharaoh’s rose and fell from favor. It’s easy to get lost in the history of Egypt.
For this list I used two sources, Ancient Egypt: the Mythology and Ancient History Encyclopedia. Please forgive spelling discrepancies as there are many ways to spell most of the names and I tried to stay true to the source I was reading at the time.
1) Creation Story
First there was nothing but shapeless water and a god of magic, Heka. Then the Ben-Ben, a large hill, and atop it was Atum. He was lonely so Heka helped him mate with his shadow after which he spat out Shu, god of air, and Tefnut, goddess of moisture. These children went out to explore the world and Atum became concerned at their long absence. He plucked out his eye and sent it out after them. They returned with it and he was so happy to have them back he shed tears of joy. His tears, upon hitting the earth, created men and women.
Shu and Tefnut had two children, Geb, earth, and Nut, sky. Geb and Nut fell in love but Atum didn’t like it because they were siblings so he separated them. But Nut was already pregnant and gave birth to the main Egyptian pantheon, Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and Horus. When Atum stepped down, he put Osiris in charge.
Allow me to don my amateur scholar hat because I’d like to point out a couple of strange things. First, incest in the form of sibling relationships is pretty common among mythologies and creations myths in particular. There’s no one else to marry. I get it. What I haven’t seen much is a scenario where someone takes exception to it. Especially when the couple’s parents are also siblings. What makes Geb and Nut’s love so wrong as opposed to their parents’, I couldn’t guess.
The other interesting thing is that humans were created before the main pantheon. For humans to be created before any gods is odd enough but this? It would be like humans coming before Zeus and company.
My first thought was a robot/AI spin. It’s been done a thousand times. The AI feels superior to the humans and takes over. But in the case of this myth, the gods are superior and were created by other gods.
So, here is your prompt. Create a story where the races (think Tolkien-esque races with dwarves, elves, etc) have an odd hierarchy of some sort. A younger but more powerful race is in charge. The creator of both has retired and put this younger race in charge. Are they benevolent? Does the older, but weaker, race rise up? (It doesn’t have to be the main story; it could just be the setting.)
After assuming leadership, Osiris set about creating the world where people live. Isis helped him organize it and he did a great job. Set was jealous of Osiris and decided to get rid of him.
He made a chest the exact same size as Osiris. Then he threw a big party and told everyone whoever fit best inside the chest could keep it. When Osiris got inside Set slammed the lid shut and threw it in the Nile. He declared Osiris dead and took over.
Isis didn’t believe it and went to find Osiris. She discovered the chest in a tree and got the locals’ help getting it down. Then she hid Osiris’ body and had her sister Nephthys guard it while she gathered herbs and potions needed to fix Osiris.
Set got worried because Isis was powerful and he thought she might actually bring Osiris back. He talked to Nephthys. He was able to get her to tell him where Osiris was. He went to the place and chopped the body into 42 (or 14) pieces and flung them all over.
Isis was devastated to return and find what had been done. Nephthys offered to help find the pieces. They went around finding them, burying them, and building shrines over them. Thus they founded the provinces of Egypt.
The sisters gathered all the body parts and Isis reassembled her husband. But fish had eaten his penis so she made him a new one. They had a child, Horus, who took over when Osiris left for the underworld. He was not whole and was no longer fit to rule.
Horus was hidden away to be raised but battled Set when he was grown. The fight lasted eighty years and at the end Horus won. There are versions where Set is banished, destroyed, or given part of the kingdom.
Horus ruled with Isis and Nephthys as counselors and things went back to normal.
The thing about this myth that always rankled me was that Osiris is given credit for coming back to life and is given dominion over the dead when it was Isis who actually did the work. She performed the magic that resurrected him but got none of the credit. That could have been a Christian tweak in the versions I was exposed to but it would fit with what I’ve seen in other cultures as well. Then after all that when her husband is deemed unworthy of ruling due to literally losing his manhood, she has to advise her son rather than rule herself.
Write a story with a powerful woman who keeps getting passed over. The main man in her life gets all the credit and she’s overlooked as a leader when the time comes. How does she react? How does the man react? Is all of this deliberate or do the others not notice they are doing it?
A side note. The idea of being incomplete and therefore not fit to rule also showed up in Irish mythology. In that story the king lost a hand and a woman had to make his fake silver hand into a real one before he could rule again. Once more, I don’t think she got the credit she deserved. But the difference in body parts makes for an interesting comparison.
3) Pharaoh Hatshepsut
Amun-Ra told the other gods he thought there should be a woman pharaoh. He wanted her to be the most magnificent ruler Egypt had seen. He wanted her to unite all of Egypt and conquer new lands. Thoth told him the new wife of the current pharaoh would be the perfect mother for this queen and he took the form of an ibis to fly down and put everyone in the palace to sleep.
Then Ra went down and removed the spirit of Pharaoh Thutmose from his body so that he might inhabit it. In the form of her husband, Ra impregnated queen Ahmes. He came back when the baby was born and blessed her. He had the Hathors weave the girl’s life before her mother’s eyes. She saw all the wonderful deeds her daughter would accomplish. She saw the military victories, the prosperity, the building projects, and finally her tomb.
Pharaoh Hatshepsut would be the only woman to rule such and one of the greatest Egypt would ever see.
So, this myth has to come with a little background. You see, Hatshepsut had it written to help legitimize her rule. She was not the first woman to rule but she was the first to take the title pharaoh. She also wasn’t the last but was definitely the greatest. It’s argued she was second only to Ramses in terms of building programs and prosperity.
Hatshepsut began her reign as regent for her stepson. She already had the highest title a woman could, God’s Wife of Amun. She married her own daughter to her stepson and gave her the title. Then after seven years, she named herself pharaoh. This was unheard of and so she set about legitimizing. This myth was part of that campaign. She also began commissioning statues of herself as a man. Not to hide but to suggest she had the same authority and right as a man.
She did accomplish the things the myth said she would. Her building program was one of the greatest in Egyptian history. Her temple was the beginning of the Valley of the Kings. She added more territory and some that had never been part of Egypt before. Luxury items poured into the country under her rule.
But when she died, of an abscesses tooth, her stepson took over.
A quick aside is needed now. Ma’at is the concept of order. Egypt was based on it. The Nile is very consistent in its flooding and receding. The Egyptians life was much less volatile than, say the Greeks who dealt with mountainous weather and stormy seas. You see this reflected in a host of much more benevolent gods who want to impose order and balance on human existence and afterlife.
After Hatshepsut‘s death, her name was erased from most of her buildings and statues. Thutmose III took credit for her deeds. We only found her name because there were some inscriptions inside her burial temple that remained intact. This may have been deliberate as Egyptians believed a person ceased to have an afterlife of their name was forgotten.
She was essentialy forgotten though. Until the 19th century when excavators found the inscriptions and references to a female pharaoh.
Thutmose III never moved against her so he may have simply erased her in order to restore Ma’at. Women had roles to fulfill and pharaoh wasn’t one of them. Whatever the reason, her 20 year reign was nearly lost to history.
There’s so much here. A story of Hatshepsut‘s life would be interesting but that’s too easy. I’d like the story of the person who wrote her myth. Virgil to the first woman Pharaoh. What must it have been like to be asked? Or did they lose a bet? Was it likely written by a priest or other holy person? What pressures would they have faced from the queen, from her enemies, and from the priests whose gods were being used to create what was essentially propaganda?
4) The Doomed Prince
Once, a king with no sons prayed that he might be blessed with one. His wish was granted but it came with a price. When the Hathors wove his life they said he would meet one of three fates; and end by crocodile, snake, or dog.
The king was so upset and wanted to keep his son safe so he built a secluded house in the mountains. But the boy, upon learning why he was kept apart told his father to let the gods’ will be done and allow him to leave the house. The king agreed and the boy, now a young man, went into the world. He even got a pet dog.
In his travels he came across Nahairana, whose chief had just made a challenge for the hand of his daughter. Any man who wished to wed her must climb a 70 cubit (32 meter) wall to the girl’s window.
When the prince met the chief he introduced himself as the first son of an Egyptian official whose second wife hated him. He had fled her wrath. The chief allowed him to stay.
But then the prince climbed the wall and the chief didn’t want his daughter to marry a fugitive so he tried to get rid of him. Every attempt was met by anger from his daughter. She threatened to starve herself if anything happened to her suitor. Finally, the chief allowed it.
The prince wanted to keep wandering and he left Nahairana with his wife and an attendant. He came to an Egyptian village with a mean crocodile. There was a man there who captured it and tied it up so the prince felt safe.
One day while he was sleeping, his wife was keeping watch. A snake came in and the attendant laid out some milk to distract it. While the snake was drinking, the wife stabbed it. When the prince awoke he saw the snake and was impressed. The wife said the gods had sent one of his fates after him and he should be careful.
Then when he was walking one day his dog chased some animals into the river. The prince followed and the crocodile nabbed him. It began taking him through the river to the man who kept him tied up.
It said, “I am your doom following you”
So, I’m sure you noticed that is not a proper ending to the story. The papyrus that holds the story was damaged and the ending was lost.
The prompt is simple, write the end of the story.
5) Ra and Sekhmet
Ra took the form of a human and ruled on earth as a pharaoh. But since he had a body he grew old. As he aged, the humans made fun of him and this angered Ra.
He went to the other gods and asked them what he should do. He wanted to smite them but thought he’d ask the others first. They agreed and said he should send his wrath in the form of his daughter Sekhmet.
So Ra created Sekhmet with the glance of his eye and she set about slaughtering the humans. She killed gleefully and the Nile ran red.
At last Ra wanted the killing to stop but Sekhmet had to stop on her own, he couldn’t force her. So he made a plan. He sent for ochre from Elephantine and mixed it with the beer from Heliopolis until it resembled blood. Then he had it spread in the place Sekhmet was headed next.
When she arrived she saw the blood and laughed. She thought she’d already killed them all. She drank the blood until she became intoxicated. Sekhmet stumbled up to Ra, docile. He changed her name to Hathor and made her no longer the goddess of rage and death but love and peace.
Sekhmet was created to wreak havoc upon earth and appeared to enjoy it. How completely was her transformation into a goddess of love? Could she be hiding an inner desire to revert? What problems could she cause in her new position?
6) Ra’s Secret Name
Ra was ruling on earth in human form. And his body grew old and he fell victim to the same maladies as old men everywhere. He began to shake and he even drooled. The gods new he should step down but he refused and they could not make him without his Secret Name. So Isis, the cleverest of the gods decided to find out what it was.
She followed him one day as he walked the earth looking at his creation. When his saliva hit the sand it created mud and Isis scooped it up and made the first cobra. She set it on the road ahead of Ra and when he got close, the snake bit him.
The poison coursed through his veins and caused him the greatest pain he’d ever known. He cried out and his voice carried across the whole of Egypt. The other gods rushed over to see what was the matter. He told them he was bitten by a snake he did not create and he did not know how to end the pain. He called for all the healers and magicians to come and help.
Isis was the greatest healer and most knowledgeable about magic. She came to Ra and told him she could only heal him if he told her his Secret Name.
“‘I am Maker Heaven and Earth.’ he said. ‘I am Builder of the Mountains. I am Source of the Waters throughout all the world. I am Light and Darkness. I am Creator of the Great River of Egypt. I am the Kindler of the Fire that burns in the sky; yes, I am Khepera in the, morning, Re at the noontide, and Tum in the evening.'” (Ancient Egypt: the Mythology)
Isis told him she knew his Secret Name was not among those. He must give it to her so she could save him.
Finally he agreed if she took an oath that she would tell no one save her son Horus and that only if she made him incapable of telling anyone else. She took the oath and his name became known to her.
Isis healed Ra but also ended his rule on earth. From then on he passed over in the form of the sun and during the night he traversed the underworld in his boat.
Ra didn’t make Isis promise not to use his name for anything else, just not to tell anyone. What could the cleverest of the gods get up to with something as powerful as Ra’s Secret Name?
7) Khonsu and the Princess of Bekhten
Once the king of Egypt was collecting taxes at the edge of his kingdom when he came to Bekhten. The princes there gave the king gifts and one prince even gave his eldest daughter. The Egyptian king took her home and made her his chief wife.
Then one day the prince of Bekhten, came to beg for help. His other daughter was very ill. The king called his helpers and asked who was best suited to help and he sent that man right away. But when that scribe arrived it became clear the girl was possessed by a demon and he could not help.
The prince returned to Egypt to ask for a god to help. Khonsu the moon god was sent. It took 17 months to arrive and when he did he saw that there was, in fact, a demon in the girl. He told it to leave and it gave in to his superior power. The demon asked to dine with the god before returning to its home and so the prince had a banquet. Then the demon returned home.
The prince of Bekhten convinced Khonsu to stay for three years before returning to Egypt. Finally the god returned to his home laden with gifts from the happy father. The story was told as proof of the power of Khonsu.
What if the whole demon thing was a trap? What if they were luring Khonsu away for some nefarious reason. And the older sister, wife of the king of Egypt, was in on it.
8) The Golden Lotus
The reign of Pharaoh Seneferu was a peaceful one, but that meant it could also be boring. One day the Pharaoh was wandering the palace, looking for something to do, when he thought to call his Chief Magician, Zazamankh. The magician told him to take his boat and sail along the Nile and the lake. Pharaoh protested that he’d already done that dozens of times but Zazamankh told him instead of taking rowers to take beautiful maidens to power his boat. Pharaoh agreed that this would be new and delightful so he did.
As they were sailing around, and Seneferu quite enjoying himself, the steering oar brushed the head of one of the women steering and the golden lotus fell from her hair and sank below the surface of the lake. She stopped singing and cried. As her song ceased, the rowers on her side could no longer keep time and the boat stopped. The Pharaoh tried to comfort her by telling her he’d replace the hair ornament but she was so distraught over the loss of that particular one she could not continue. So, Pharaoh called for Zazamankh.
Zazamankh said that he had a spell that could be used to retrieve the golden lotus. He spoke the words and a huge section of water separated and rose up. It set down on top of the water next to the hole it left behind creating a huge cliff of water. The boat glided down to the dry lake bed. The woman leaped from the boat and retrieved her golden lotus. Now appeased, she was able to climb back in and resume her duties. The boat rose back to the surface and Zazamankh replaced the section of lake he had moved. The boat continued as if nothing had happened.
Seneferu was overjoyed. This was an entertainment no one had ever enjoyed and he praised Zazamankh as the best magician ever.
Did anyone else think of a giant slice of gelatin? Just me? Okay. Anyway…
Your prompt is to write a story about the lengths to which someone will go in order to alleviate boredom. The Pharaoh in question made a spectacle of women who’d never done a hard day’s work in their lives and then was entertained by magic so powerful it defied all the laws of physics it possibly could. What can you come up with?
9) The Prince and the Sphinx
When Tutmose IV was still a prince, he had a troubled life. His many brothers were constantly plotting against him in order to prevent him from being named heir to the throne. This caused him to develop a preference for being alone and he often snuck off from festivals and other gatherings to go hunting with just a few trusted servants.
It was on one of these occasions that Tutmose decided to pray to the god Harmachis. He had been out hunting and was near the pyramids of Giza. He told his servants to wait for him and took off in the chariot. He approached the sphinx, the form the god took when he was hunting Set, and began to pray.
Tutmose felt the earth begin to move and when he looked up the eyes of the sphinx were no longer just stone, but alive. The god spoke to him and told him that he was the father of all pharaohs and he would help Tutmose and make sure he was raised to the throne and had a good reign if only Tutmose would free him from the sand.
Tutmose collapsed from the heat of the day and when he awoke he remembered the encounter. He shouted for the gods to hear that if he became pharaoh, the first thing he’d do was clear the sand from the great statue and erect a plaque.
Tutmose’s life was much easier from then on. He was selected as the official heir of the pharaoh and rose to the throne soon after.
It is worth noting that a plaque was indeed found at the foot of the sphinx when it was dug out again in recent history. It is also worth noting that Tutmose IV was not originally the chosen successor so we are faced with more revisions to history.
Messages from gods and talking statuary, or objects in general, are found in many stories. What I like about this one is that the god wants his image to be treated better. I would like to see this scenario set in a modern, or even future, time when people aren’t used to stories of magic and deities. What sort of image would seek assistance and what would the reward be?
I’m cheating for this one and not really using a myth, but mummies are a trope that cannot be ignored when talking about Egypt. It’s been done about a billion times from Universal’s 1932 film with Boris Karloff to Brendan Fraser’s 1999 romp to the the 2017 take with Tom Cruise and all the others scattered in between. And that’s not even mentioning the books! The first book that ever scared me was the Magic Tree House book with a mummy. There has to be a reason that mummy stories are so fascinating. Why do we keep making them?
Sit down and really think about it. What about mummies is interesting and scary? Either make a story that takes those factors away from mummies altogether or use mummy in a different way.
I hope you enjoyed these Egyptian Myths as much as I did. If you’d like more mythological inspiration be sure to check out my other collections of prompts here. Let me know in the comments which story you can’t wait to write. (Or your favorite mummy story!)