NB 19/7/12: Added a few more things I’ve found out recently, and tidied up the paragraphs a little.
NB 8/3/12: Have found cached pages on the Internet Archive for all but one reference, so every source has a link now. I’ve also gone and added a little more to this, based on things I’ve found out lately. But there is more to add once I’ve been able to chase down some books I need.
NB 29/8/2011: This was originally written several years ago, and is in desperate need of a rewrite. Also, three quarters of my references no longer work. I’m in the process of finding cached copies/Internet Archived copies, just to preserve the information. I hope it’s still somewhat illuminating anyway, and gives a good insight into Sobek as He was seen historically.
Who is Sebek?
Well, that’s a good question. And a ruddy difficult one to discover if you’re searching for Him online. Sobek first appeared in the Old Kingdom as the son of Nit, where He carried the title, ‘The Rager’. (12) If that’s not the right breeding for a fiery personality, I don’t know what is. The pyramid of Unas describes Sobek and Nit as Mother and Son. There is some suggestion that Set is His father, though I have not found any source for this. I suspect it may be from confusion regarding Set’s son Maga, a crocodile, with Sobek, also a crocodile. Alternatively, the only name for Sobek’s father that is given is Senuy, which means ‘the two brothers’. (15) Which makes me very, very curious and intrigued about digging up the source for that.
He has different wives given in different areas, depending on the main cult of the areas, to be sure. Het-Hert, Renenutet, and Heqet are all named as His wife. He is also thought to be husband of the goddess Taweret; this suggested in images of Her with a crocodile on Her back. Khonsu, Heru and Khnum are listed as His sons, again, depending on where you came from. (12)
Sobek is known as the Lord of the Nile, depicted as either a full crocodile or as a crocodile-headed man. He wears a plumed headdress with horns, a sun disk and two cobras. In His form of a crocodile with a falcon’s head, He is linked to Heru, where He becomes a healer and protector, and an avenger of wrongdoers. (6,9) This is a Late Period depiction, as far as I’ve been able to find, nor can I find out if it’s Sobek as Heru, Heru as Sobek, or if there is another name for this form.
He has other ties to Heru-sa-Aset as well, such as being the one who rescued the four sons of Heru from the waters of Nun by carrying them in His mouth (which is what crocodiles do irl). Henadology cites the net in connection with Sobek and the creation of fish traps. (15) The Book of the Dead cites Sobek as assisting with Heru-sa-Aset’s birth, fetching Aset and Nebet-Het to protect the deceased, and gives Him a role in the destruction of Set, though what role I have been unable to find. (10) He is also said to have protected the young Heru while They were hiding in the marshes from Set. This role in Heru’s birth is seen as an indication of the origins of Their closeness, and I am quite intrigued by this. (12) I’ve also seen images of Harpocrates standing on top of two crocodiles, and it’s part of my sudden urge to figure out how Sobek and Heru-sa-Aset are historically linked, particularly when we get to Graeco-Roman Egypt.
In one version of the creation myth, Heru-wer’s four sons were born from a lotus flower as solar deities associated with creation. Ra ordered Sobek to collect them from the Nun in a net. (4) Alternatively, Sobek was said to have crawled out of the primordial waters on the day of Creation (1), the God of the “dark waters”. In some places, He was hailed as the Creator of the World. (11) He is said to have laid His eggs on the banks of the Nile to begin Creation (12), which makes me consider Him, like all Creator Deities, to be allgendered. This illustrates His creative potential, and links Him both with Ra and Amun. As the first mound of creation, He has links with the fertility of the land; one of his epithets is “He who makes the herbage green.” The Nile was said to have come from His sweat. (6)
I’ve heard that it was He — or a crocodile at the very least — that eats Wesir’s phallus when it is thrown in the Nile. Of course, a fish is also credited with this. Another version has it that Heru turned into a crocodile — or possibly Heru in His name of Sobek (which I’d like to find a reference for) — to retrieve the parts of Wesir’s body from the Nile. (4) In some versions of the myth, Set hides in the body of a crocodile to avoid punishment. (1) This leads to Set’s associations with crocodiles. This site describes Him as ‘the personification of all that is evil” and “the personification of death”. While He is connected to death and the underworld, when aspected with Ra, he becomes a God of eternal life for those of pure hearts. (7) Yet another reference to Sebek as “one of the most evil of the Egyptian Gods”. The author also says that “He did not get on with the other gods, and was sometimes confused with Set, who personified natural darkness, and who also was worshipped by the people about Kom Ombos.” Personally, I’m yet to find anything ‘evil’ about Him in my experience, and I suspect this association comes purely from the demonisation of Set and His links with crocodiles condemning Sobek as well.
The Egyptians were fond of having a different mythos for every cult centre, which is why there is no real single version of Egyptian mythology. Polyvalent logic holds them all to be true, so there are several Creation stories, which all feature different Gods, depending on which God was worshipped. “Sobek embodies the creative potency of the Nile…and, by extension, the primordial creative power of the cosmos itself, in perhaps its most intense form,” (15) an association I also experience. He is said to be the first mound of land to come forth from the waters of Nun.
Sobek’s cult centres were Crocodilopolis (also known as Arsinoe, and Medinet El Fayoum), and Kom Ombo, 48 km north of Aswan, where there was a dual temple to Sobek and Heru(-sa-Aset, from the reliefs I’ve seen), which is the only one of its kind as far as I’ve been able to tell. He was especially worshipped in the Faiyum region, and at Gebelein. (2)
Sebek is associated with the fertility of the land. This came about because of the mass appearance of crocodiles after the annual flood. He is called “an eternal God”, as his mother Nit was also described. (3) He is also a god of fertility itself, and sexual potency. (15)
He represents the physical strength and authority of the King, and takes on the responsibility of being the bodyguard of the gods, protecting Them from all evil. (8) He is famed for His ferocity and swift movement, His nature being that of a crocodile. He is also considered a fourfold deity, representing the four elemental Gods: Ra (fire), Shu (air), Geb (earth) and Wesir (water). (11) He is said to restore sight to the dead, reviving their senses and protecting them from Set who was said to attack souls travelling through the land of the dead. (12) As Lord of the Waterways, He is invoked to guide and protect the deceased soul through the Duat. (15) He is also said to be the god of dark magick and curses, although, again, this may be more confusion with Maga than a strict characteristic of Sobek Himself. (14)
I found a site about Roman Egypt Coins, and found two examples of nome coins with mentions/images of Sebek. One comes from Arsinoites (Crocodilopolis) under Hadrian (3rd coin down, see coin 2546 here for image), and the description suggests a link between Sobek, Ra, and Heru. The Arsinoites coin has a picture of a crocodile on the reverse side. Another comes from Menelaites under Antoninus Pius, coin 2560. The Menelaites coin shows Harpocrates with a crocodile tail on the reverse side, and the description links Sobek, Amun, and Heru-sa-Aset/Harpocrates. This is the first time I’ve seen Sobek and Harpocrates presented as a syncretised deity. It seems my instincts to chase up the Graeco-Roman Egyptian period is justified.
I’ve also come across this Nimes coin with a crocodile on it, as well as two seals (top row) featuring Sobek or a Sobek-like figure at any rate. This Roman coin celebrating the capture of Egypt by Rome also features a crocodile.
Another interesting Graeco-Roman syncretism is between Sobek and the Dioskouroi (16), although I have only seen it mentioned once and I am not sure where the information came from. There is a mention in Henadology’s entry on Sobek of a story of Sobek being killed by Set as He tried to attack the sun barque (15), and it reminded me of the myth of Castor being killed trying to steal cattle. Within the Coffin Texts, Sobek is also called ‘The Wrongdoer’, ‘Rebel amongst the Gods’, who ‘has a recourse to steal’. (15) This, too, reminded me of Castor and Pollux and their thieving. I’ve always associated Sobek with Castor, and perhaps this is a small sliver of a clue as to why. I will have to chase up.
1. Osiris Cult
http://touregypt.net/Osiriscu.htm (scroll right down to the bottom, second last paragraph)
Sebek, thought to be among the patrons of the Thirteenth Dynasty, was a crocodile god. Sebek was said to have crawled out of the primordial waters on the day of creation. He was especially worshipped in the Fayyum; however, due to his associations with Set, the crocodile — symbol for Sebek — was mercilessly hunted down and killed in other places in Egypt. It was told in some versions of the Osiris myth that Set had hidden in the body of a crocodile to escape punishment for his crime.
2. The Goddesses and Gods of Ancient Egypt
Sobk (Sebek, Suchos): The crocodile-god, worshipped throughout Egypt, but especially in the Faiyum, and at Gebelein and Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt.
A huge amount of tales and legends was the result of the melting of a variety of old civilizations and primitive populations from South America to Australia. This belief can be recognized in different aspects of life, like the Chinese calligraphy, necklaces of crocodile teeth, ancient aboriginal cave paintings and in 20th century books and movies. The old Egyptians honored the Nile Crocodiles which they considered as holy beasts. Because of the fact that after the annual floods thousands of crocodiles (in September) were spotted, the Egyptians associated them with the prosperity of the land. Sebek (or Sobek), the crocodile god, was one of the 438 old Egyptian gods and was considered as the son of Neith, the oldest of the goddesses. In the ancient pyramid scripts Sebek as well as Neith were described as eternal gods (as state affairs and as the faith of the other (great) gods might change) whether the crocodile was worshipped out of fear or out of the need for reconciliation is impossible to determine. Anyhow, Sebek managed to be one of the supreme gods of his time (2400 BC). Sebek has always been depicted as a being with a human corps and a crocodile head.
4. Mystical Gate: Poised on the Edge of Known Reality
Sobek – He who causes to be fertile. Cult Center: Crocodilopolis in the Faiyum, after the Twelfth Dynasty he was worshipped everywhere with cult centers at Kom Ombo, Thebes and at Lake Moeris. Attributes: Admired and feared for his ferocity. At the command of Ra, He performed tasks such as catching with a net the four sons of Horus as they emerged from the waters in a lotus bloom. Sometimes identified with Seth when Seth took the form of a crocodile. It is said that in the Osiris legends, Horus takes the form of a crocodile in order to retrieve the parts of Osiris`s body that were cast into the Nile by Seth. Relations: Son of Neith of Sais. Other Names: Sebek, Sebek-Ra, Sobk, Suchos, Sobki or Soknopais.16″ high 6 1/2″ deep (front to back) 4 1/4″ wide with a 1` high staff.
Hathor and the StarGate Novels
by Ed Sum
In “Resistance,” Hathor played out her mythological role, parading around nude and spreading joy to all who beheld her lithe body. When she undressed before Sebek, another Egyptian god, and danced before him, her motives were not of a benevolent goddess. Before Sebek knew it, he was down on the ground and beheaded. Hathor showed that she was going to lead Ra’s empire and anyone who denied her right would face a similar punishment.
6. Real Magick Article: Sebek/Sobek
http://realmagick.com/articles/20/420.html (first and third paragraphs)
Lord of stretches of water and of fishes. There are several deities for water, Sobek being the most important … He is also seen with a falcon’s head and this form shows him connected to Horus. His consort was said to be Hathor and Khonsu was their child. As he is a god of water, the Nile is said to issue from his sweat and “he made the herbage green”.
7. Sebek – Britannica Student Encyclopaedia
http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article?tocId=9313465 – no longer works, not on Internet Archive, try alternate source.
A god associated with death and the underworld, but also—as an aspect of the all-powerful god Ra—with eternal life for the pure of heart.http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/531238/Sebek <– this is the new link, but as Britannica is paywalled, that’s all that’s available unless I fork out $70 which I don’t have, so I can’t verify whether that quote is still included in the article itself.
8. Gods of Ancient Egypt
(clicking on Sebek in the left nav bar as it won’t let me direct link.)
He symbolised the physical strength of the king, and was bodyguard for other colleagues protecting them from all evil.
9. Egyptian Gods, Satis, Sekhmet, Selket, Seth, Sobek
In this connection Sobeq [sic] is a protector, a healer and one who avenges wrongdoers.
10. Sebek – Free Encyclopaedia of Thelema
The Book of the Dead relates that Sobek assisted in the birth of Horus, was responsible for fetching the sisters Isis and Nephthys to protect the deceased, and had a role in the destruction of Set. Other mythological sources credit Sobek with catching Horus’s four sons in a net as they emerged from the waters of the Nile in a lotus blossom.
11. Tour Egypt: The Crocodile God, Sebek
According to legend, Sobek was a fourfold deity. He represented the four elemental gods, Ra of fire, Shu of air, Geb of earth, and Osiris of water
Sobek was revered for his ferocity and quick movement.
He was the god from the “Dark Water.” It was believed, in some sects, that Sobek was the creator of the world. These people believed that he arose from the “Dark Water” and put the world in order.
12. Tour Egypt: God of protection, etc…
The Book of the Dead suggests that Sobek’s closeness to Horus can be traced back to his participation in the birth of this god. Sobek was responsible for calling Isis and Nephthys to aid in the protection of the dead.
Despite the different attitudes of people to the god, he was venerated as one who restored sight to the dead, who revived their senses and who protected them from Set who attacked those souls who traveled through the land of the dead.
Sobek was a god of the Nile (which was believed to have come from his sweat) who gave life to vegetation and fertility to the land. The ‘Lord of the Waters’ was believed to have risen from the primeval waters of Nun to create the world. One tale says that Sobek laid his eggs on the bank of the waters, starting the creation process. He was thus a fertility god, ‘He Who Made the Herbage Green’. This explains his link to the rebirth of the deceased into the after life.
Sobek first appeared in the Old Kingdom as the son of Nit, where he was known as ad ‘The Rager’. The two were mentioned as mother and son in the pyramid of Unas. Some tales suggested that Set was his father. He was given different wives in different areas – Hathor, Renenutet, Heqet to name a few. He was also thought to be husband of the goddess Taweret, who was sometimes depicted with a crocodile on her back. He was, likewise, given different children – Khonsu, Horus and Khnum were sometimes called his sons, again in different areas.
13. The Spell of Egypt by Robert Hichens – Ch. 15
http://www.nalanda.nitc.ac.in/resources/english/etext-project/travel/egypt/chapter15.html (second paragraph)
Sebek was one of the oldest and one of the most evil of the Egyptian gods. He did not get on with the other gods, and was sometimes confused with Set, who personified natural darkness, and who also was worshipped by the people about Kom Ombos.
14. Wisewayz Egypt Gods
http://www.wisewayz.com/egypt.htm (Warning: black background/white text; high contrast with not-quite-large-enough font. It made my eyes hurt at any rate.)
Sebek – God of dark magick and curse.
15. Sobek @ Henadology
His closest tie is with Neith, who is identified as his mother in PT utterances 308 and 317. A father is named for Sobek about whom nothing is known but his name: Senuy (in Greek Psosnaus), which literally means ‘the two brothers’.
Sobek embodies the creative potency of the Nile—vested especially in the Fayyum lake, the center of Sobek’s veneration—and, by extension, the primordial creative power of the cosmos itself, in perhaps its most intense form.
16. The Doiskouroi @ Neos Alexandria
Equated with: Sobek, The Asvins