Egyptian Myths And Legends That Will Keep You Up At Night

Egypt, both as a culture and a nation, has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. The region came together under a single ruler around 3,100 BCE, though the kingdom now commonly known as ancient Egypt suffered through a series of ups and downs until it fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. It was conquered by Muslim rulers in the seventh century and, though it was seized by foreign powers in the intervening centuries, the modern independent nation of Egypt remains majority Muslim and its people often express a strong sense of pride that includes the accomplishments of their ancient forebears.

With such a rich history, there is also plenty of myth and folklore in Egyptian culture. Some of those stories may be affirming or heartwarming, but that's hardly all. Quite a few tales from ancient Egypt all the way to the modern day are so creepy that you might find it difficult to settle down at bedtime. From undead gods to an apartment building supposedly full of evil spirits, these are some of the Egyptian myths and legends that are bound to keep you up at night.

En-Naddaha lures men to their doom

Consult a book of mythology and legends, and it may start to seem as if every body of water is inhabited by a supernatural being that's ready to drag you to a soggy doom. There's the Scottish kelpie, the turtle-like kappa of Japan, and the Aztec ahuizotl, just to name a few amongst the very crowded slate of water monsters.

With the grand, life-giving Nile flowing right through the center of the land, Egypt is no exception to this mythological trend. While there are some very tangible hazards of the river, like aggressive hippos, others may speak in hushed tones of En-Naddaha. She's often depicted as a gorgeous, dark-haired woman who stalks the Nile and its canals as she hunts for her victims. En-Naddaha's prey is most often taken from amongst the incautious men who wander near the river at night, especially in rural spots along the Nile. They might hear her voice calling them by name or even catch sight of a voluptuous woman at a distance. Never mind that they can't quite see her, or that she may be partially submerged, as few human women tend to do.

As many stories make clear, it's all but impossible to resist En-Naddaha's voice once she begins to call. Her victims helplessly wend closer to the water, where they are pulled in to drown or perhaps even to be consumed by this rapacious water spirit.

Ammit ate souls

When a mythical creature is known as a "soul eater," how can it be anything short of terrifying? But if you learn more about the ancient Egyptian creature known as Ammit, chances are that you'll be doing more than shake off a chill or two. As anyone living or dead in ancient Egypt might have told you, this being was kind of a big deal. However, you couldn't expect to encounter it while alive. Ammit was an inhabitant of the ancient Egyptian underworld who worked in concert with fellow creepy god Anubis, himself a guide to and judge of the dead. All Egyptians could expect to face judgment after their deaths, as Anubis would take their heart and weigh it against the feather of Ma'at (the representation of universal order and righteousness). If their heart was in balance with the feather, all was well and they could pass on. If not, the offending organ was tossed to a waiting Ammit.

While she was already terrifying in concept — surely, no one relishes the idea of their heart being consumed and what remains of their soul being condemned to oblivion — Ammit was also a fearsome sight to behold. She was a mishmash of terrifying creatures that would have been familiar to people living along the Nile, with a crocodile head, a big cat's forequarters, and the back half of a hippo.

Egyptian legends are full of ghouls

Across the Arabic-speaking world, the figure of the ghoul has inspired fear for centuries. As per the journal Cultural Analysis, the folklore figure was perhaps influenced by Mesopotamian underworld beings that preceded Arabic ghoul tales by hundreds of years. With the arrival of Islam in the region in the 7th century, the demonic figure of the ghoul was already entrenched and could never quite be banished despite the best efforts of the then-new religion. It eventually became a shapeshifting, inhuman spirit that hung about graveyards and in the wilderness. It was said that a ghoul frequently appeared as a beautiful woman who could quickly turn deadly, then consume the flesh of its victims. In modern Arab countries, the ghoul has become a folklore figure that's sometimes deployed to get kids to fall into line. Perhaps bedtime doesn't sound so bad after all, so long as it wards off a grave-robbing, corpse-consuming demon.

In Egypt, as in other Arabic-speaking nations, ghouls abound in all sorts of tales and urban legends. The most frightening might be Omena El Ghoula, which roughly translates to "Mother of Ghouls." Modern Egyptians might have first heard of her as a hag figure, with a grotesque face, red eyes, and a mouth full of sharp teeth just perfect for gobbling up naughty children.

Sekhmet was a uniquely terrifying goddess

Sekhmet was already a pretty imposing goddess in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, given that she was often represented as a woman with a fearsome lioness head. But there's a lot more to this deity than looks. Her many epithets refer to Sekhmet's ability to both create and destroy, to bring health, and also to draw down pestilence on others. Oftentimes, she was also associated with the sun and harsh desert that sat outside the agricultural land of Egypt. Sekhmet was also a particular favorite of pharaohs with war on their minds, who might commission artwork of her blasting enemies with fire and heat.

One especially chilling myth concerning Sekhmet connects her with Hathor, the generally more chill goddess of sensuality and love. As the story goes, chief god Ra determines that humans aren't keeping things in balance, so he sends Hathor down to punish them. She becomes Sekhmet for this purpose, but then goes overboard with her mission of vengeance and starts killing too many people. The gods pour out massive quantities of beer that they've dyed red to mimic blood. Sekhmet takes the bait, consumes it all, and becomes so drunk that she passes out for three days. When she wakes up, the bloodlust has dissipated. Egyptians marked the occasion with an annual festival, naturally incorporating the red beer that saved everyone from the wrath of Sekhmet.

Abu Rigl Maslukha is a chilling and crispy boogeyman

Egyptian parents who are having a difficult time getting their young ones to listen might turn to the tales of Abu Rigl Maslukha to get their attention. Just going by the name — which translates to "man with the burnt leg, according to the "Encyclopedia of Giants and Humanoids in Myth, Legend and Folklore" — you know this isn't going to be a cuddly sort of story. The details are scarce and just waiting to be filled in by an adult who's feeling equal parts gruesome and creative. But the basic story structure is usually the same: Abu Rigl Maslukha was once a child who did not listen to his parents. Because he failed to heed them, he was terribly burned on one leg (though some stories have it that he suffered more extensive injuries all over his body).

Somehow, this disobedient and now dramatically injured child transformed into a monster. And this once-human creature isn't content to lurk in the dark corners of rooms and menace children. Instead, he seems to have developed a taste for them, as Abu Rigl Maslukha is said to snatch up poorly behaved kids, carry them away to his home, and cook them.

Apophis is a snake that tried to consume the sun

Like in many a grand myth throughout human history, the ancient Egyptians told of a grand struggle between chaos and order, evil and good. For them, the forces of justice and order were often represented by Ra, the sun god. Every day, he boarded a great ship that ferried the sun across the sky, until it winked out as it dipped below the horizon. But Ra's journey was far from over. As the humans slept, his boat and the life-giving sun went on a perilous journey through the underworld. At some point during the nighttime portion of this journey, a great serpent that came to be known as Apophis attacked Ra's vessel. Its goal: keep the sun itself from returning to the human realm.

As a representative of destructive chaos, it was only fitting that Apophis (sometimes also called Apep) would attack something as orderly and vital as the sun. Numerous ancient texts claimed that other gods rode on Ra's ship specifically to fight back against the gigantic serpent. Surely, there were ancient Egyptian children (and some adults, too) who lay awake in their beds, chilled to the bone by the idea that the sun was at that moment in some strange underworld, menaced by a mind-bendingly large and very hungry snake. Though some may have been awake to see the sunrise the next morning, it's a safe bet that they were pretty glad to see it anyway.

The Roushdy Building is said to be haunted

In the bustling port city of Alexandria sits a building that, if the rumors are true, might be one of the most haunted in all of Egypt. According to El-Balad, work on the Roushdy Building began in 1961, but delays meant it sat vacant for a long time, gathering eerie tales and a cursed reputation. One story says that a resident turned on their sink, but instead of water, saw a rush of blood spilling into the basin. Some, hearing unholy screams emanating from the vacant place, wondered if it was infested by goblins or devious jinn spirits. Some said it was because of the gruesome death of a construction worker on site, while others claimed a mosque had been demolished to make way for the building, unleashing divine judgment.

But, as much as people love a good urban legend, there may be a more mundane explanation behind the Roushdy Building's eerie reputation. As architect Amr Habib told Al-Masry Al-Youm, the building was once caught up in an ownership dispute. The first owner may have started the ghoulish rumors to get vengeance for what amounted to zoning woes and a lack of construction funds. That may be enough to keep any responsible adult up at night, but without the delicious shiver of a good horror story. Undoubtedly, the goblin and jinn business is just more fun to imagine than a tale of confusing laws and mounting debt, so the rumors live on.

Ancient pyramids contain a paean to cannibalism

With a name like the "Cannibal Hymn," it's hard to ignore this eerie inscription that's been found in multiple tombs across ancient Egypt. According to The Collector, this is actually one section of a larger work that's often known as the "Pyramid Texts." These are inscriptions that were carved into the stone walls of at least 11 pyramids and which concern the ancient Egyptian religious beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife.

Of that group of tombs, just two contain the section that modern archaeologists have deemed the "Cannibal Hymn." Moreover, the content of this section has puzzled its readers for many centuries — and probably gave them a good chill, besides. In the most complete version, recovered from a tomb belonging to pharaoh Unas, the dead king is expected to ascend upwards and join the gods in the sky. There, he is to demonstrate his immense power, as he is greater even than the gods of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. How does he do it? Well, by eating them, of course. And this is no G-rated experience, as the text in Unas' pyramid has him chowing down on various godly organs, including guts, lungs, and hearts.

Does this passage speak to real cannibalistic practices in ancient Egypt? That was the theory of early 20th-century archaeologist Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, but many Egyptologists say that's nonsense. The Cannibal Hymn is simply a poetic metaphor, they contend, though it's certainly a gross one.

Anubis was all about death

As much as ancient Egyptians prepared for death, the idea of confronting it was still likely terrifying. It didn't help that, according to their belief system, they were likely to encounter an impossibly ancient god who not only hung around the dead but had the head of a jackal, one of the animals that sometimes dug up and consumed human bodies. That god would be Anubis, who staked a claim as the god of mummification and one of the key figures of the underworld. In Egyptian, he was more often known as Anpu or Inpu, though he's more often known today by the Greek "Anubis."

Anubis cut an imposing figure. Besides the canine features, he also often sported jet-black skin, which was connected both to the color of decaying flesh and the rich, dark soil so beloved by Egyptian farmers along the Nile. Balancing between the finality of death and the hope of regeneration, Anubis became a fearsome protector of the dead.

Souls making their way through the Egyptian afterlife would do well to remember the god's protective role, but it may have been tough. Anubis was said to be the one who took the deceased's heart and weighed it against the feather of truth. If it was too heavy, off went the heart into the gullet of a nearby monster, the crocodile-headed Ammit. Anubis was also typically described as punishing the thieves who often broke into tombs to gather up the dead's riches.

Sleep paralysis might be blamed on jinns

If you've ever experienced sleep paralysis, then you know it can be terrifying, with the inability to move on your own and, in the worst cases, while ominous beings seem to attack you. Sleep paralysis visions like these have likely inspired a vast array of folkloric beings that come around to menace helpless people who are just trying to get some sleep, from night hags to aliens. In Egypt, those awful beings might be interpreted by some as visiting jinn.

According to a 2013 paper published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, Egyptians may be more culturally sensitive to sleep paralysis, with the nighttime issue so embedded in folklore that Egyptian people included in the study experienced episodes of sleep paralysis at least two times more often and for longer periods than their Danish counterparts.

A 2013 study in Transcultural Psychiatry found that Egyptians might blame the activity of evil spirits known as jinn for causing sleep paralysis. Within Islam, jinn present a real problem, to the point where a whole chapter of the Qur'an is dedicated to explaining and understanding the issue. One religious man in the study said that a shadowy figure approached him at night, while another participant reported a dramatic encounter with a jinn that attempted to choke him. However, the same study found that younger Egyptians were less likely to report a supernatural cause than their elders, perhaps speaking to increasing globalization within the country.

The Osiris myth has many eerie details

While some of the earliest inscriptions concerning the jackal-headed Anubis make him the head honcho of the underworld, he was eventually supplanted by the undead Osiris. The image of a green-skinned god presiding over the tension-filled judgment of human souls is enough to keep anyone from sleeping — and that's before even getting into his even creepier backstory.

Known in the original ancient Egyptian as Usir, Osiris was once a pretty standard god who reigned over the earthly realm with his wife and sister, Isis. But their brother, Set, grew jealous of his siblings' perfect life, especially after Osiris brought civilization to the people and enjoyed their adoration thereafter. Set tricked Osiris into laying down in a sarcophagus, then slammed it shut and flung the coffin into the Nile. Isis eventually recovered her husband's body, but Set then chopped it to bits and scattered the parts across the land. Isis set out again and managed to briefly resemble and resurrect Osiris long enough to conceive a son, Horus. But the damage was done — Osiris was well and truly dead. He was forced to move to the underworld, where he became its ruler and the ultimate judge of all humanity.

Osiris is often shown with green skin, believed to represent the fertile soil and plants sprouting from it, as well as the color of a decaying corpse. He's also typically depicted as mummified, speaking to his mystical state in between life and death.