The identity of the Egyptian sun god is difficult to trace: sometimes it is Re, sometimes it is Aten. This emblem, which first appeared at shrines at Behdet in the Nile Delta, originally represented Horus; stone masons and temple artists borrowed the motif for temples, shrines, tombs, and stelae. The Sun made a daily journey through the underworld (the time we call night). The dead also lived in the Underworld. Unlike the Sun, they did not return to the lands of the living. The early 20th century fascination with "things Egyptian" led to this motif reappearing over the portals of modern mausoleums. The revivers doubtless associated the Horus of Behdet with the renewing power of the Sun and its power to restore the dead to life in the hereafter.
Sometimes the viewer can discern a cobra or two wrapped around the disk: this is the Uraeus, the symbol of royal power. Wadjet, the cobra goddess who guards the monarchy, appears in this form to symbolize the ultimate sovereignty of the Sun god, Aten. Some who fancy themselves modern pharoahs display this emblem over their modern mastabas. In some cases, it could be that the deceased is representing the God of the Hebrews, whom some scholars link to Aten. [See Sphinx.]
Photo: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California
Copyright 2000 by Joel GAzis-SAx