We all love playing the slot machine dedicated to his name, but who was Ra anyway? What was his place in history, and how did he come to influence so much of modern culture? Let’s take a closer look at the Egyptian god and see who it is that we play with when we spin those reels.
Not Just Any God
The ancient Egyptians had many gods, but for most of the era, Ra was the top of the pile. As the legend goes, he was the father or the king of the gods and the creator of everything, which is quite an impressive CV. In fact, Ra was so important that the pharaoh was the son of Ra, giving him rights and powers beyond any other citizen.
According to the Egyptians, the world as we know it came from Ra. Texts found in the pyramids show that Ra created Shu (the air) and Tefnut (the water) and that Tefnut created Nut (the sky) and Geb (the earth). Ra separated the earth and the sky by placing the air in between them. Humans results from Ra’s sweat and tears.
Ra’s Daily Journey
Ra was the god of the sun, which was a mighty celestial chariot, or sometimes a ship, which Ra rode or sailed across the sky on bringing light and life. At the end of each day, Nut consumed Ra, and he died. He then undertook a perilous journey through the underworld, or world of the dead, only to emerge, reborn, the next morning. This journey is on the walls of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, broken down into 12 stages or hours.
Temples of Ra
Many believe that the pyramids were a tribute to Ra. The theory goes that the shape of the pyramids represents the rays of light spreading out from the sun, or indeed Ra himself. Other Egyptians built sun temples to Ra, which were open at the top to allow the sun, Ra, inside. They had no statues of Ra, as the sunlight was Ra himself, so no image or idols were necessary.
Images of Ra
Often depicted with the head of a falcon and the body of a man, Ra’s right eye represents the sun while his left eye represents the moon. He also bears a crown with a winding cobra said to represent royalty and divine authority. Some Egyptians associated Ra with the bull Mnevis and would sacrifice bulls in his honor at Heliopolis.
Ra in Popular Culture
The worship of Ra as a god continued beyond the classic Egyptian kingdoms, with the Greeks associating Ra with their own god Zeus. However, his power and influence died out when the Romans conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. For most of the Egyptian gods, that was largely that, yet for some reason, Ra has persisted in popular culture to this day. Much like in his heyday of Ancient Egypt, Ra is still the king of the old gods, appearing in everything from “Stargate” shows to luxury slot machines to video game characters.
Ra on Screen
On the big screen, Indiana Jones needed the staff of Ra to find the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Ra also appeared as the big bad in the movie “Stargate,” ruling over kidnapped humans on a distant world. He went on to plague the “Stargate” team for ten seasons on TV, with the original myths and legends somewhat distorted to match the needs of the show. Most recently, Ra had a leading role in the 2016 film “Gods of Egypt,” with Geoffrey Rush playing Ra, as he rides his mighty vessel across the sky above the action below.
Ra in Games
Ra makes regular appearances in video games, including Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Overwatch and Smite where he is a playable god character. As you would expect, he also has a role in the game Age of Mythology where worshipping him earns you camels and chariots. His influence has even stretched to Japan where he features in the manga comic trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh!
The next time you log on to play your favorite slot, spare a thought for Ra. Once the god of gods and the creator of everything, he’s reduced to the pantomime villain of a sci-fi TV show and a character in a few video games. That said, if you drop the jackpot, I’m sure you’ll join his believers and start worshiping the sun god yourself!