Sobek, crocodile-headed god of the Nile; Sekhmet, leonine goddess of war; Anubis, jackal god of the underworld; and Hathor, mother goddess with a cow’s horns: The ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods was filled with divine animals. Egyptian animal cults had extremely deep roots, going back through Egypt’s remarkably long history. Living in the lands of the fertile Nile Valley, ancient Egyptians acquired in-depth knowledge of the animals that lived there. They later transferred these animals and their characteristics to the divine realm, so by the dawn of dynastic Egypt in 3100 B.C., the gods were taking animal forms.
Ancient Egyptian belief generated such exuberant creations as the scorpion goddess Selket; the part-hippo, part-crocodile, part-lion devourer of souls Ammit; the baboon-headed (or sometimes ibis-headed) god of learning, Thoth; and Bes, a deity of the household and everyday pleasures, often depicted as comically ugly, with wings, and attributes of a lion or other beasts.
The Egyptian pantheon can appear bewildering, but it’s important to keep in mind that Egyptian cosmology lasted for millennia. As the kingdoms of Egypt changed over time, so too would its deities shift, evolve, and sometimes blend. The falcon-headed Horus’s very early role as a solar deity would be merged into Re, who was also often depicted as a falcon. Re then merges with other gods, including Horus himself, to create a Re-Horus composite god, Re-Harakhty, who is also falcon-headed.