Ruty – Protectors of the Horizons

In wondering what topic to cover in this week’s blog I decided to have a random flick through a trusty book on Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddess. I have had this book for years and used it a lot when I was studying but this time, I decided to just have a random flick through and see what new god or goddess I could learn about. Contrary to popular belief, I can’t in fact rattle of every single deity from ancient Egypt along with a fact. Flicking through I came across a picture and became intrigued. So, learn with me this time as I introduce you to the twin divine lions known as Ruty (Figure 1).  

Figure 1 : Ruty the twin lions shown Book of the Dead of Ani
Figure 2: Ruty as a lion-headed man but given their dual name with plural name. From a detail at Tanis Gods and Goddess page 180

As old as time

This set of lions were linked early on in the history of Egypt to the Heliopolitan deities Shu and Tefnut as lions typically inhabited the desert margins to the east and west of the Nile Valley, then leading them to be linked to a horizon[1].  In a version of the Pyramid Texts written for the Pharaoh Unas, the lions are mentioned being with Amun witnessing the creation of the gods by Shu Tefnut. “ O Atum together with the Double Lion, who have created themselves, their double divinity for themselves. This is Shu with Tefnut, the two who made the gods, begat the gods, established the gods.[2] The original cult centre of Ruty is potentially identified as Nay-ta-hut, the Greek Leiontopolis and modern-day Tell -el Yahudiya in the Delta.[3]

Early on this pair of lions were associated with the sun god an association strengthened in Chapter 17 of the book of the Dead. In this chapter, the sun is described as rising each day from the back of these lions. The picture in figure 1 is an image taken from the Book of the Dead belonging to a man named Anhai. In this vignette, you can see the god represented as a pair of lions face out form each other with the hieroglyph of the horizon Akhet appearing from between them. Interestingly this image can also be argued to not show Ruty but Akher. Akher was an earth god who guarded the eastern and western horizons taking the from of a pair of conjoined sphinxes’ facing away from each other[4]. Either way this protective image would still aid the owner Anhai in his journey to the afterlife.

Akher isn’t the only god to be attached to the pair.  Different deities appeared connected in different texts.  In the Pyramid Texts we saw them connected to Amun , in the Coffin Texts connected top Geb, Nut, Re and others, whilst in the Book for the Dead they are connected collectively as Atum and then as an induvial with Re and Osiris[5].

Tomorrow or Yesterday?

Although we have been talking about Ruty as twin lions they are not always shown like that. Instead, they can be shown as a single lion, lion-headed man with a dual and then as the twin lions positioned back-to-back as I first described them. When they are seen as a single lion or single figure, they have a dual name attached to them in this example shown in the hieroglyphs through the use of plural strokes. (Figure 2).

Figure 4: Tomorrow

When these lions were separated they were assigned a different direction one taking East the other West. But in these guises, they also have more specific names – Tomorrow and Yesterday. Tomorrow or ‘dw3w’ in ancient Egypt was given to the West with the setting sun and Yesterday ‘sf’ to the East with the rising sun (Figure3/4). 

These positions as a broadly cosmic deity didn’t stop Ruty entering popular religion. We have examples of these lions in amuletic forms linking the wearer with the daily regeneration of the sun and so held significance from an everyday and funerary standpoint[6].   An example of Ruty in amulet form comes from the burial of a woman named Henettawy. This necklace was found around her neck alongside two others consisting cord of two-ply linen embellished with knots and the double lion amulet of pressed gold[7] (Figure 5). On the other hand, a famous example of Ruty comes from the burial of Tutankhamun in the form of a headrest. This headrest is made from ivory and shows the air god Shu supporting the head of the king whilst being flanked by images of two small lions representing the eastern and western horizons[8] (Figure 6). This object symbolically represents that the king slept happily between the guards of yesterday and tomorrow.  

I hope you have enjoyed this weeks topic all about the double lion god Ruty and that you sleep happily like the Pharaohs knowing this pair have your backs.

Figure 5: Necklace with a pressed gold amulet of Ruty as a two headed sphinx The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (25.3.189c)
Figure 6: Ivory headrest of King Tutankhamun with Shu flanked by the twin lions JE 62020


[1] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 180


[3] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 181

[4] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press. Page 99

[5] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 180

[6] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 181


[8] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 181


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