Lord of Dark Water
Also known as: Suchos; Sebek
Sobek is a crocodile god. His name literally means “crocodile.” Sobek is a crocodile and hence something of an ambivalent spirit. How you feel about him will derive from your feelings toward crocodiles. Sobek is a particularly ancient Egyptian deity. Active veneration of Sobek continued until the forced abolition of traditional Egyptian religion. Sobek was adored and beloved by some people but feared by others. Crocodiles, after all, are killers. They were the primary danger lurking in the Nile. Sobek rules the most powerful and dangerous aspects of water. Sobek protects those he loves or for whom he feels responsible, but he menaces others.
Sobek is the son of Neith, who may have self-generated him with no need for a father. Alternatively, Sobek’s father is Set. Yet another myth suggests that Sobek emerged alone from the primordial dark waters of chaos and that he himself created and ordered the world. His oldest shrine was at Shedet in the swamps of the Fayoum, an oasis west of the Nile. The Greeks who later ruled Egypt renamed Shedet, Crocodilopolis: “Crocodile City.”
During the Middle Kingdom, the pharaohs began to pay more attention to the Fayoum region, and Sobek was brought to national attention. He was particularly revered during the twelfth and thirteenth dynasties. Sobek became the personal protector of pharaohs, serving to protect against dangers deriving from the human and spirit realms. Eight pharaohs were named Sobekhotep. Sobekneferu (1799–1795 BCE), last ruler of the twelfth dynasty, is the first documented female pharaoh.
Sobek is a multifaceted spirit who performs various functions. He is an aggressive guardian who repels and devours malevolent spirits who threaten his devotees. Sobek is generous with his power; contact with him allegedly enhances one’s own personal power.
As Lord of the Dark Waters, Sobek rules the dangers of the deep. Thus he protects against danger emanating from the Nile River. According to one myth, the Nile River emanates from Sobek’s sweat. In one version of the saga of Isisand Osiris, Sobek personally retrieves Osiris’ dead body from the river and carries it to shore on his back.
He is a deity of both personal and vegetative fertility, an erotic spirit who is the epitome of virility. Sobek bestows sexual prowess to men and fertility to women. He is invoked to help women in childbirth. Bringing his image into the birthing room allegedly eases labor pains and keeps predatory spirits at bay. If an image of Sobek is unavailable, the image of any crocodile or even the Egyptian hieroglyph representing crocodile is sufficient substitute.
Sobek is intensely associated with crocodiles. He protects some people but he is also the guardian of crocodiles. If you have harmed crocodiles or if you hunt them, eat them, or have a closet full of crocodile belts, handbags, or boots, it might be best to avoid contacting Sobek or otherwise drawing his attention to you. (And conversely, just because Sobek protects someone doesn’t mean that it’s safe to approach living crocodiles. Always use common sense and caution.)
Cleopatra has a bit of an encounter with Sobek’s sacred temple crocodiles in Margaret George’s 1998 novel, The Memoirs of Cleopatra.
Manifestation: Sobek is a Nile crocodile or a man with a crocodile head.
Attributes: Egyptian was-scepter and ankh
Sacred sites: Sobek’s primary shrine was in the Fayoum, but he was venerated throughout Egypt. He had a large sanctuary at Kom Ombo, near Aswan, now a prime tourist attraction. Sobek’s temples were tourist attractions way back when, too. Sacred bejeweled crocodiles lived in pools where they were hand-fed by Sobek’s priests. In the Fayoum, a crocodile was enshrined as a living manifestation of Sobek. Known as Petsuchos (literally “Son of Sobek”), it lived a life of luxury and was replaced by another when it died. The Petsuchoi (plural) were mummified and preserved after death in the manner of pharaohs or high priests.
See also: Hathor; Isis; Khnum; Neith; Osiris; Renenet; Set; Taweret